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Perseverance key to success of quantum magnet research

Publication spans decade of collaborative research

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Dr. Christopher Wiebe, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Materials Discovery, was thrilled when he learned that a research project that has spanned a decade and involved over 21 undergraduate students, graduate students, postdocs, principal investigators, and instrument scientists from more than 16 research institutions worldwide, was accepted for publication in the journal Quantum Materials.

We hope our work will inspire additional in-depth studies concerning the physics for, not only this compound, but other disordered magnets.

Dr. ChrisTopher Wiebe

“This publication is the result of a long investigation into some new phases of matter called quantum spin liquids,” said Wiebe. “The collective effort from each of these gifted individuals was what made this project so successful. As is the case for the quantum magnets we study, the sum is greater than its individual pieces.”

The project began as an undergraduate honours project for Dr. Kanisha Cruz-Kan (now a MD at the University of Manitoba). It was continued by Dr. Paul Sarte (now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara) and Dr. Alannah Hallas (now a professor at UBC).

“This research puts UWinnipeg at the forefront of Canada’s growing quantum technology industry,” said Dr. Jino Distasio, Vice-President, Research and Innovation. “I am very proud of their outstanding work.”

As principal investigator on the project, Wiebe guided the types of experiments the team performed, assisted with the data analysis, and contributed to the manuscript summarizing the results of their research. 

The team was able to take advantage of additional facilities and resources as researchers moved on from their studies at UWinnipeg. For example, when Sarte moved to the United Kingdom to begin doctoral studies at the University of Edinburgh, Wiebe coordinated in-depth experiments to explore the mysterious behaviour they had first witnessed – or rather not witnessed – in Wiebe’s UWinnipeg lab.     

A new understanding of spin liquids

One of the things that stood out early in their experiments is that no static magnetic ordering appears in the disordered pyrochlore Yb2GaSbO7 down to temperatures well below those seen in outer space. This is unusual as the third law of Thermodynamics states that crystals of a pure substance would be expected to have increased order at very low temperatures.

“This lack of magnetic ordering may provide clues for possible avenues for accessing the quantum spin liquid state, commonly referred to as one of the holy grails of condensed matter physics,” said Wiebe. 

Understanding spin liquids is important to understanding modern technologies such as quantum computers which have capacity to solve problems at a much higher speed than classical computers.

Wiebe says there has been a significant shift in how chemists see disordered magnets.

“Once considered detrimental, chemical disorder appears to be a useful tool in achieving the long coveted quantum spin liquid state,” he said. “We believe that our work on Yb2GaSbO7 will further reinforce this paradigm shift, particularly since it is a member of a class of magnets that have already been at the central focus of the community for more than a decade.”

The research team is continuing its search for new quantum materials.  Their future research plans have been energized by the recent Government of Canada announcement of a National Quantum Strategy that will invest $360 million and establish a secretariat at the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to amplify Canada’s strength in quantum research.

Wiebe hopes their findings will continue to spur innovation for decades to come.

“We hope our work will inspire additional in-depth studies concerning the physics for, not only this compound, but other disordered magnets in the pursuit of the eventual physical realization of a quantum spin liquid,” he said.

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