What Is Mottness?

Ray Hawk

Mottness is an overall insulating quality that enhances antiferromagnetism, and is studied in condensed matter physics for Mott insulators (MI). MI's are named after Sir Nevill Francis Mott, a 20th century English physicist who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1977. Mott insulators are a unique state of usually supercooled matter samples being studied as superconductors that, in band gap theory, should display metallic features, but, due to electron-electron interactions, actually act as insulators. As an enhancing quality to antiferromagentism, mottness is a general term that includes all previously-unknown physical properties that increase the antiferromagnetic state. These properties can include physics observations such as a change in the Green function in many-body theory and two sign changes of the Hall coefficient for voltage differences across a conductor.

Sir Nevill Francis Mott, a 20th century English physicist, won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1977.
Sir Nevill Francis Mott, a 20th century English physicist, won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1977.

The study of mottness and the Mott insulator are of increasing interest to physics research as of 2011 due to their application in fields such as that of high-temperature superconductors. Traditionally, mottness has been researched by cooling a gas such as rubidium to a state close to that of absolute zero and confining the gas both optically and magnetically. This state of matter is known as a Bose-Einstein condensate, and possesses unique qualities such as the ability to slow down light to almost a standstill as photons pass through it. The individual confined particles are known as bosons, but further research as of 2008 indicates that a Mott insulator may be used to trap fermions as well and lead to a more complex optical lattice that supports high-temperature superconductivity.

The optical lattice that displays Mott insulator features is created by directing three laser beams to intersect in the Bose-Einstein condensate as a superfluid (SF). The quantum state of the material can then be tuned to have individual transition regions of SF to MI quality by adjusting the power of the lasers or the characteristic density of the condensate itself. Such physics research into mottness has the potential to create a range of quantum-optical states in SF to MI matter that can emit light pulses upon command. Theoretically, such research will eventually open up the way to creating optical quantum computer microprocessors that would be hundreds of millions of times faster than current microprocessors. The microprocesssor itself would be built upon quantum logic gates at the sub-atomic level, making them many orders of magnitude smaller than the smallest transistors that exist in computer chips as of 2011.

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