Newly discovered state of matter could help shape the future of artificial intelligence

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A new state of matter, referred to as self-induced spin glass, has been discovered by physicists at Radboud University in the Netherlands, and Uppsala University and Örebro University in Sweden. This state of matter is promising for materials used in artificial intelligence (AI). A research article on the study recently published in the journal Science describes the findings.   

The study involved the chemical element neodymium. According to an article released by Radboud University, neodymium is used in combination with iron to make the strongest permanent magnets known today.

Neodymium, in its pure form, does not display similar behaviours like known magnets. This characteristic of neodymium has been astonishing to researchers for years.  

Neodymium | Unknown author / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0)

A magnet is known to have a north pole and a south pole. The atoms within a magnetic compound spin in the same direction, defining the north and south poles. This is commonly referred to as a ‘spin.’ Whereas, the atoms within an alloy, a metal combined with another metal or non-metal, spin in all directions with no specific order. The manner in which the atoms in alloys spin is called ‘spin glass’.  

The researchers at Radboud reported that the spins of the atoms within neodymium, whirled like a helix but constantly changed pattern. This new state of matter discovered in neodymium is called ‘self-induced spin glass.’ The news release highlights that this phenomenon has never been exhibited in a pure chemical element from the periodic table before.  

Using scanning tunnel microscopy (STM), the physicists were able to study this behaviour of the atoms in neodymium. The news article released by Radboud notes that STM allowed the researchers to view the atoms’ individual structure and pinpoint the atoms’ north pole and south pole.   

In the article, Daniel Wegner, one of the researchers, commented on the research process. He explains that he and his team were able to discover the behaviour of the atoms in neodymium using the high-precision imaging of STM and detected “the incredibly small changes in the magnetic structure.”   

This discovery is said to be beneficial to the future of artificial intelligence (AI). In the news release, Alexander Khajetoorians, another researcher involved with the study, explains that the element’s complex behaviour could be used to mimic the basic behaviour utilised in AI and possibly provide the groundwork for the development of new theories in physics-related fields such as theoretical neuroscience.  

The news release also notes the increasing demand to develop materials with brain-like functions in machine components as AI continues to advance.    

Khajetoorians says that, “You could never build a brain-inspired computer with simple magnets, but materials with this complex behaviour could be suitable candidates.”    


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