(MIT.edu) Physicists at MIT and elsewhere have for the first time discovered fractal-like patterns in a quantum material — a material that exhibits strange electronic or magnetic behavior, as a result of quantum, atomic-scale effects.
The material in question is neodymium nickel oxide, or NdNiO3, a rare earth nickelate that can act, paradoxically, as both an electrical conductor and insulator, depending on its temperature. The material also happens to be magnetic, though the orientation of its magnetism is not uniform throughout the material, but rather resembles a patchwork of “domains.”
Scientists are exploring neodymium nickel oxide for various applications, including as a possible building block for neuromorphic devices — artificial systems that mimic biological neurons.
Comin and Li didn’t intend to find fractals in a quantum material. Instead, the team was studying the effect of temperature on the material’s magnetic domains.
Comin says that understanding how a material’s magnetic domains arrange at the nanoscale, and knowing that they exhibit memory, is useful, for instance in designing artificial neurons, and resilient, magnetic data storage devices.
“Similar to magnetic disks in spinning hard drives, one can envision storing bits of information in these magnetic domains,” Comin says.