New kinds of matter and magnetism

(via Reddit) reports on the discovery of a new state of matter, Quantum Spin Liquid (QSL), and a new kind of magnetism.

The existence of QSLs has been theorized since 1987, but until now no one has succeeded in actually finding one. In MIT’s case, the researchers spent 10 months growing a tiny sliver of herbertsmithite (pictured above) — a material that was suspected to be a QSL, but which had never been properly investigated. (Bonus points if you can guess who herbertsmithite is named after.) Using neutron scattering [...] the researchers found that the herbertsmithite was indeed a QSL.

Moving forward, Lee says that the discovery of QSLs could lead to advances in data storage [...,] and communications (long-range entanglement). [Young] Lee also seems to think that QSLs could lead us towards higher-temperature superconductors — i.e. materials that superconduct under relatively normal conditions, rather than -200C.

Really, though, the most exciting thing about quantum spin liquids is that they’re completely new, and thus we ultimately have no idea how they might eventually affect our world.

Lately it seems like there's cool new quantum science coming out roughly every week.  More likely, I just notice it more now that the Higgs is found and the spell of ambiguity surrounding quantum physics is broken -- as I wrote on Particle Day earlier this year, "I never really believed they were going to find it.  I had this weird sense of pessimistic determinism about the whole thing, because up to that point, everything about chemistry and physics that was known, as far as I knew, was known long before I was born."

Now, rather than feeling like science is basically cooked, and we're just pushing up against a wall of inscrutability, I feel like our understanding of the universe is exploding forward every day.  It's pretty cool.  And I'm grateful.

Metal Smell comes from human sweat

(via Did You Know on Tumblr) Scientists at Virginia Tech have discovered where the smell of metal comes from -- which is weird, because I didn't know it was something that needed discovering.  It turns out, though, that when we handle metal, it reacts with our skin to accelerate the output of body odor, and that's what smells when we touch certain metals, like iron, copper or brass.

These metallic-smelling organic compounds emanate when sweat from human skin corrodes iron metal. This generates reactive ferrous ions that break down lipid peroxides in the skin to create odorous aldehydes and ketones.

'The smell of iron is only an illusion,' explained Dietmar Glindemann, a chemist at Virginia Tech and leader of the research team. 'What we really smell is a human body odor.'

Apart from being a very cool discovery, the information also has applications in medicine:

The team is now using their experience to develop iron-based diagnostic skin tests. People emit specific chemical fingerprints that can change when the body becomes distressed, such as when a person becomes sick. The volatiles that define these chemical fingerprints are often difficult to detect, but applying iron to the skin accelerates the decomposition of peroxides and improves the detection of volatiles.

'Since different sicknesses produce different amounts of peroxides, applying iron to the skin will produce different quantities of odorants,' explained Glindemann. 'Iron skin tests to detect diseases would be a great achievement.'