Artist’s impression of a string-net of light
and electrons. String-nets are a theoretical
kind of topologically ordered matter.

The 500 phases of matter: Entering a new phase

December 21, 2012

(—Forget solid, liquid, and gas: there are in fact more than 500 phases of matter. In a major paper in today’s issue of Science, Perimeter Faculty member Xiao-Gang Wen reveals a modern reclassification of all of them. Using modern mathematics, Wen and collaborators reveal a new system which can, at last, successfully classify symmetry-protected phases of matter. Their new classification system will provide insight about these quantum phases of matter, which may in turn increase our ability to design states of matter for use in superconductors or quantum computers. This paper, titled, “Symmetry-Protected Topological Orders in Interacting Bosonic Systems,” is a revealing look at the intricate and fascinating world of quantum entanglement, and an important step toward a modern reclassification of all phases of matter.

Condensed matter physics – the branch of physics responsible for discovering and describing most of these phases – has traditionally classified phases by the way their fundamental building blocks – usually atoms – are arranged. The key is something called symmetry.

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