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EPSRC Reference: EP/F038658/1
Title: Growth, Characterization and Electronic Structure Studies of the Non-Fermi Liquid Compound YbAlB4
Principal Investigator: Sutherland, Dr ML
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
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Department: Physics
Organisation: University of Cambridge
Scheme: Overseas Travel Grants (OTGS)
Starts: 15 November 2007 Ends: 14 January 2008 Value (£): 2,400
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Condensed Matter Physics
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
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Summary on Grant Application Form
The study of electrons confined within a crystal lattice of atoms yielded the theoretical foundation for the quantum theory of solids, where electrons are treated as waves instead of particles. Through much of the 20th century this theory was utilized with great success to engineer the materials used in creating the electronics we have become so familiar with in our everyday lives. The circuits found in computers, iPods and mobile phones are for instance constructed from small metal wires connecting semiconductor transistors -- elements whose function can only be fully understood using quantum theory. The key to the success of this theory is the assumption that electrons within a material behave more or less independently; we can think of their effects on each other as merely a weak perturbation on the independent electron case. The fact that this crude approximation works at all is rather remarkable, there are as many electrons confined within a single cubic centimeter of a metal as there are stars in the entire universe.Despite the remarkable success of this simple picture, an increasingly large number of materials have been discovered in which the assumption of nearly independent electrons appears to break down. The challenge now facing physicists is how does one move beyond this approximation? What happens to the quantum theory of solids when electrons in a crystal lattice are forced to interact strongly? What new states of matter does this produce in materials, and what new properties do such materials exhibit? The answers to these questions promises not only to expand our knowledge of fundamental physics, but also offer the opportunity to develop and engineer devices of the future, using materials exhibiting novel properties arising from strong electron interactions. One example of a material in which the independent electron picture breaks down is the newly synthesized compound YbAlB4. Evidence suggests that this material is on the verge of being magnetic at low temperatures, and this close proximity to magnetism leads to unusual behaviour. One example is that the ability of YbAlB4 to transport electrical current does not vary with temperature in a way that can be understood using conventional theories of metals.A useful approach to understanding what leads to such strange behaviour is to measure how the electrons in a material behave in the presence of an applied magnetic field. The path of a travelling electron is deflected by a field, and for sufficiently strong fields may bend enough to form a closed circle. Studying this effect at very low temperatures allows us to measure interactions between electrons, which offers insight into why materials such as YbAlB4 behave so differently from normal metals.
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