Study marks major step to creating a system to study quantum phase transitions

In 1934, physicist Eugene Wigner made a theoretical prediction based on quantum mechanics that for decades years went unseen.

The theory suggested how a metal that normally conducts electricity could turn into a nonconducting insulator when the density of electrons is reduced. Wigner theorized that when electrons in metals are brought to ultracold temperatures, these electrons would be frozen in their tracks and form a rigid, non-electricity conducting structure — a crystal — instead of zipping around at thousands of kilometers per second and creating an electric current. Since he discovered it, the structure was coined a Wigner crystal and was observed for the first time in 1979.

What’s remained stubbornly elusive to physicists, however, has been the melting of the crystal state into a liquid in response to quantum fluctuations. At least, it was: Now, almost 90 years later, a team of physicists co-led by Hongkun Park and Eugene…
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