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Apologies for being so inactive. Work really kills a lot of your motivation to do other things.

I’ve only felt like doing short posts of late and as some of you may have noticed, the posts I tend to do here are long. Anyway, I still engage in scientific discussion when the chance arises and typed this one out recently – thought I would share it. I typed this on my phone by the way, so forgive any grammar/syntax/punctuation errors.

Damn this is getting frustrating. Time to drop some knowledge bombs.

Antimatter is NOT dark matter. Dark matter is matter that we have not discovered and have literally no idea about – hence dark. We know it exists because it affects light and other properties in the universe in a way that currently known matter cannot describe (i.e more light curvature than one would expect given how much known matter there is – hence that means there’s more “stuff” out there than we know). Dark energy is used to describe the accelerated expansion of the universe. Remember, what’s dark mean? It meabs we don’t know. So we expect expansion to be slowing down but it’s actually increasing so there must be some energy we don’t know about. Those of you that actually UNDERSTAND Einstein’s equation E=mc^2 will know energy and mass are the interchangeable, so dark energy and dark matter are essentially the same thing.

Now ANTImatter is not dark. What does that mean? We KNOW about it. What is matter made up of? Particles. So antimatter is a broad term for a whole bunch of particles called antiparticles. Every particle theoretically has an antiparticle with the same mass but opposite charge, therefore when they come into contact with each other they annihilate each other and cause decay (into other forms of energy/particles). Carl Anderson discovered the POSITRON. It is the antiparticle of the ELECTRON. Both are known to exist and scientists can create them at will. No, it’s not the end of the world. Positrons ONLY annihilate electrons. All elementary particles have a known antiparticle. 

Further reading for you if you’re interested is CP Violation which explains why there’s more matter than antimatter in the universe.

Boom. Science bitches.

On a side note, I think I will begin every scientific explanation I give with “Time to drop some knowledge bombs” and end it with “Boom. Science bitches.” from now on. Sound good?

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I’m always super excited when science makes a breakthrough. The last major one was the Higg’s Boson. This time it’s the existence of Quantum Spin Liquids (QSL), which has been theorised since 1987 but never discovered. This is reminiscent of the Higg’s Boson, which was predicted by the Standard Model but not found until recently, hence my excitement. It’s just very satisfying to see even more “gaps” filled in by science.

So, what is QSL? I have some knowledge of the quantum mechanics field but I can only really give you guys a basic overview of this discovery. QSL confirms the discovery of a third fundamental state of magnetism. Originally, magnetism was described in two states:

Ferromagnetism:

This type of magnetism has been known and used for centuries. It is the force behind a compass’s needle and your typical bar magnet. A ferromagnet’s spin (charge) of every electron is aligned in the same direction, causing two distinct poles.

Antiferromagnets:

The electrons in these have an opposite spin to their neighbouring electrons, leading to a net effect of zero magnetism. Generally, these exist only at certain low temperatures and are used in giant magnetoresistors. You might be wondering what the point of having zero net magnetism is – well think of it as a control or a switch. Sometimes you want the magnet to switch off.

The existence of QSL posits a new, third type of magnetism that is described as liquid in that the magnetic orientations of the electrons fluctuate, and thus the object’s magnetic state is constantly in flux. Most magnetic solids trend towards a stable magnetic state at low temperatures, but in a QSL, the electron spin will remain in flux even at temperatures close to absolute zero.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) just published (literally just then – like today) news of their discovery of QSL in a mineral known as Herbertsmithite. The crystalline structure of this mineral is called a kagome lattice, a weaving pattern of overlaid triangles forming a hexagon at its centre. Here’s a picture to clarify what I’m saying: (the arrows represent electron spin direction)

Kagome

To get a bit more technical, the reason why the kagome lattice is so important to QSL is because of the triangle. It has three points with a copper atom at each. The electrons on two of the corners can align but the third one cannot align with both, thus causing magnetic frustration (fluctuating magnetism).

Implications:

Because a combination of ferromagnets and antiferromagnets are used to create hard drives, the main proposed usage of this discovery is in the field of information processing.

However, the existence of frustrated magnetism has been proposed to lead to other interesting phenomena such as magnetic monopoles, which would support M-Theory, among other things.

All in all though, the most exciting thing is the discovery of something fundamentally new. Adding on top of what we already know is great but when you discover a new fundamental state, it points to an even greater science that we’ve never seen before – something to perhaps replace the Standard Model, as they are trying to do at CERN, or perhaps conclude the theory of everything, as M-Theory and Quantum Loop Gravity are trying to do.

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