Scientists discover the elusive “devil particle” nearly 70 years after it was first predicted

By Stacy Liberatore for

17:23 Aug 15, 2023 updated 17:24 Aug 15, 2023

Scientists have discovered a ‘devil particle’ that could lead to superconductors that conduct electricity at room temperature – the ‘holy grail’ of physics.

A superconductor is a particular metal or alloy that is capable of conducting electricity without resistance, but the temperature must be below 100 Fahrenheit to freezing point.

Researchers at the University of Illinois recently identified a particle that has no mass, meaning it can form at any temperature, in the mineral strontium ruthenate — nearly 70 years after the ‘devils’ predicted it.

Superconductors are used in processes such as elevated trains and high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, but materials that operate at room temperature would pave the way for more powerful computers.

Current superconductors must be below 100 degrees Fahrenheit freezing point to conduct electricity without resistance and to be kept cold with liquid nitrogen

Superconductivity was discovered more than 100 years ago in mercury cooled to a temperature of liquid helium at minus 452 Fahrenheit.

After the discovery of superconductivity in mercury, this phenomenon has also been observed in other materials at very low temperatures.

The materials included several metals and alloys of niobium and titanium that could easily be made into wire

The devilish particle was first predicted by theoretical physicist David Baines in 1956, who believed that electrons would interact ‘strangely’ when traveling through a solid.

Electrons can lose their individuality in solids because electrical interactions cause electrons to combine to form collective units.

With enough energy, electrons can form composite particles called plasmons with new charge and mass determined by fundamental electrical interactions.

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However, the mass is usually too great for plasmons to form with the energies available at room temperature—but Baines hypothesized that there was an exception to this.

The physicist argued that if a solid had electrons in more than one energy band, as many metals do, their plasmons might combine in an out-of-phase pattern to form a new massless, neutral plasmon—a demon.

Since demons are massless, they can form with any energy and can exist at all temperatures.

However, the elusive devil particle that was accidentally discovered in a particular mineral is massless, meaning it can form at any temperature. Pictured is a model of a satanic particle

This has led to speculation that they have fundamental effects on the behavior of multiscale minerals.

The discovery was made by a team of researchers led by Peter Abamonte, a professor of physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who mapped Baines’ prediction while studying the mineral strontium ruthenate.

The experiment was not related to superconductors, but the metal is like a high-temperature superconductor without being one.

The researchers were making the first scan of a metal’s electronic properties by blasting it with electrons, invoking the devil within the metal’s features.

Abamonte was working with former graduate student Ali Hussain on the project, who said, “At first, we had no idea what it was.

Devils are not in the mainstream. The possibility came early on, and we basically laughed at it.

“But, as we started to rule things out, we began to suspect that we had really found the Devil.”

Edwin Huang, a Moore postdoctoral researcher at UIUC and condensed matter theorist, was eventually asked to calculate features of the electronic structure of strontium ruthenate.

Pines’ prediction of demons required fairly specific conditions, Huang said, and it wasn’t clear to anyone whether strontium ruthenate should have a demon at all.

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We had to do a microscopic calculation to figure out what was going on. When we did, we found a particle consisting of two electron bands that oscillate out of phase with roughly equal strength, just as Baines described.

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