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‘Holy grail discovery’ in solid-state physics could usher in new technologies

There are many mysteries still to unravel in the world of quantum mechanics, but scientists at Northeastern believe they’ve made a “holy grail” discovery that could help pave the way for the next generation of electronic devices.

Their findings, published recently in Nature, center mostly on the discovery of a so-called topological axion insulator, a unique state of quantum matter of which researchers previously only theorized existed, according to physicist Arun Bansil, who led a team of researchers at Northeastern involved in the study. There were several dozen scientists from universities around the world involved in the project.

This axion insulating state was realized, Bansil says, by combining certain metals and observing their magnetoelectric response. In this case, researchers used a solid state chip composed of manganese bismuth telluride, which were adhered together in two-dimensional layers, to measure the resulting electric and magnetic properties.

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