The hardness of materials is determined by the strength of chemical bonds between atoms. Diamond, for example, has very strong bonds, making it one of the hardest materials. Quantum materials are complex compounds that are of interest in current research. In these materials, layers of strongly bonded atoms separate layers where current can flow. The flowing electrons and the lattice (atomic background) affect each other. If the lattice changes, it can impact the current patterns. If the flowing electrons strongly interact with each other, they can spontaneously change the current patterns, but this usually has a weak effect on the lattice. The lattice usually dominates the current-carrying electrons, and even a small change in the lattice can drive the change in current pattern.
In a recent study, our Institute discovered evidence of a case where a small fraction of the current-carrying electrons can dominate all the others, making the lattice softer. We collaborated with researchers from various countries to understand this surprising result. The model constructed by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology was crucial in solving this mystery, along with complementary experiments published in 2022. This work provides a new perspective on an old problem and will hopefully influence future research.
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