News of the WeekMathematics

Statistical Physicists Phase Out a Dream

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Science  02 Jun 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5471, pp. 1561-1562
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5471.1561a

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Physicists have long sought an exact mathematical solution to the Ising model, a powerful tool for studying phase transitions--the abrupt changes of state that occur, for instance, when ice melts or cooling iron becomes magnetic--because it would provide much more information about such still-mysterious transitions. Now a theoretical computer scientist has proved that the Ising model--at least in its most general, three-dimensional form--belongs to a class of problems that theorists believe will remain unsolved forever.