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The ancient alchemists who invented Chinese purple continue to have an impact—today on the study of physics. Suchitra Sebastian of Stanford University is a specialist in condensed matter physics, the study of how atoms and molecules interact with each other. She took microscopic crystals of Chinese purple, known to physicists as barium copper silicate, and subjected them to extremely powerful magnetic fields and temperatures close to absolute zero. Sebastian’s team discovered two strange effects that could someday lead to super conductive electrical wires and super-efficient computers. First, as she lowered the temperature below two degrees Kelvin and raised the intensity of the magnetic field to 900 times the strength of the earth’s, the molecules of Chinese purple crystals linked together magnetically and began behaving as a single wave of magnetic energy. As she continued to lower the temperature to within a fraction of a degree of absolute zero, the magnetic couplings between the molecules began disappearing until they became, in terms of magnetism, separate two-dimensional planes—something no material had ever done before. While this work is unrelated to archaeology, the researchers still owe a debt to the ancient Chinese. “I actually went to the archaeology journals to get ideas,” says Sebastian. “Essentially the way we grow barium copper silicate crystals is very similar to the way the ancient Chinese grew them.” —Zach Zoric
The 3D to 2D is an explanation of how barium copper silicate behaves when placed in a powerful magnet and frozen. It is forcing the electrons to take a path created by Sebastian to follow a 2D plane since it is now the least resistant.
The technology will allow Intel to create transistors that are faster, smaller and more power-efficient, Bohr said. The benefits of the new technology will range across the product lines from the fastest server to the most power-efficient smartphone chips made by Intel.