New quantum switch turns metals into insulators

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have demonstrated an entirely new way to precisely control such electrical currents by leveraging the interaction between an electron’s spin (which is the quantum magnetic field it inherently carries) and its orbital rotation around the nucleus.

In simple materials, the difference between metallic and insulating behavior stems from the number of electrons present: an odd number for metals, and an even number for insulators. In more complex materials, like so-called Mott insulators, the electrons interact with each other in different ways, with a delicate balance determining their electrical conduction.

The team explored a possibility: was there a way to alter the very quantum nature of the material to enable a metal-insulator transition to occur?

That discovery could be important for quantum computing, data storage and energy applications.

The paper has been published in Nature Physics. (

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