A new phase of matter can help create energy-efficient technologies.

Researchers have found evidence of an anomalous phase of matter predicted to exist in the 1960s. The use of its properties can help in the creation of new technologies capable of exchanging information without wasting energy.

While exploring a quantum material, nickel tantalum selenide (Ta2NiSe5), researchers at the University of Cambridge noticed the presence of unexpectedly fast energy waves passing through the material when exposed to short, intense laser pulses.

Scientists probed the material with two pulses of light: the first disrupted its structure and created vibrations that propagate outward in concentric circles, like a stone falling into a pond. The second impulse made it possible to track the movement of these waves. The images put together have allowed scientists to investigate this phenomenon and figure out its limitations.

At room temperature, these waves travel at a speed of a hundredth of the speed of light. This is much faster than we expected. But when we move to higher temperatures, the material is completely calm. We don’t see the waves hitting at all. We spent a lot of time looking for the reasons for this phenomenon.

Hope Bretscher, study author of the Cambridge Cavendish Laboratory

The only explanation that met all the conditions was that the material at room temperature contains the phase of an exciton insulator, a substance that was theoretically predicted, but not discovered earlier.

In an exciton insulator, the observed energy waves are explained by the movement of charged neutral particles, which can move as fast as electrons. It is important to note that these particles can carry information without interference.

The new work, the authors believe, takes humanity one step closer to creating future technologies in which information will be transmitted without interference.