Coherent transmutation of electrons into fractionalized anyons

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Science  07 Nov 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6210, pp. 722-725
DOI: 10.1126/science.1253251

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Nailing down a quantum spin liquid

Quantum spin liquids (QSLs) possess magnetic interactions that, even at absolute zero temperature, remain in a disordered liquid-like spin state. It is very difficult to prove unambiguously that a material is a QSL, because there is always a possibility that it can become ordered below the lowest measured temperature. Barkeshli et al. used quantum field theory to propose a direct way to identify a QSL by placing it in contact with other exotic materials, such as superconductors or magnets. The theory predicted that, at such a boundary, electrons entering the QSL would turn into excitations lacking charge or lacking spin. Future experiments may be able to detect this transmutation.

Science, this issue p. 722


Electrons have three quantized properties—charge, spin, and Fermi statistics—that are directly responsible for a vast array of phenomena. Here we show how these properties can be coherently and dynamically stripped from the electron as it enters a certain exotic state of matter known as a quantum spin liquid (QSL). In a QSL, electron spins collectively form a highly entangled quantum state that gives rise to the fractionalization of spin, charge, and statistics. We show that certain QSLs host distinct, topologically robust boundary types, some of which allow the electron to coherently enter the QSL as a fractionalized quasi-particle, leaving its spin, charge, or statistics behind. We use these ideas to propose a number of universal, conclusive experimental signatures that would establish fractionalization in QSLs.

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