Electron Nematic Phases Proliferate

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Science  08 Jan 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5962, pp. 155-156
DOI: 10.1126/science.1183464

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Even though electrons in solids form a dense and strongly interacting fluid, electrons in many metals can also be considered as a weakly interacting quantum gas of “quasiparticles.” Like a gas, the electron fluid is essentially homogeneous and isotropic. On the other hand, if the electrons interact sufficiently strongly, they crystallize, freezing into an insulating state that exhibits density modulations that are periodic in space. However, both of these conventional descriptions fail dramatically in many of the most interesting electronic materials discovered in the past two decades. In these materials, the electrons appear to organize into phases with a spatial structure that partially resembles the electron crystal but is still a conducting fluid. The behavior of these materials has the characteristics of both, seemingly opposite, states. On page 181 of this issue, Chuang et al. (1) report the observation of such a phase, in a scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) study of an iron-based high-temperature superconductor (2).