SUTD team helps make leap in quantum mechanics

Assistant Professor Yang Shengyuan of the Singapore University of Technology and Design with an illustration of the 3D quantum Hall effect in the background. His team was involved in the first experimental demonstration of the effect in 3D - which pa
Assistant Professor Yang Shengyuan of the Singapore University of Technology and Design with an illustration of the 3D quantum Hall effect in the background. His team was involved in the first experimental demonstration of the effect in 3D - which paves the way for future applications that the effect could have in computing and electronics.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Researchers at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have collaborated with scientists from around the world to produce a major result in quantum mechanics.

The quantum world is already playing a huge role in technology. One of its most striking behaviours is the "quantum Hall effect" (QHE). Electricity in a quantum Hall system can be conducted without losing energy, which makes it possible for future electronics to be much more energy-efficient and more powerful.

But until now, researchers had been able to achieve this effect only in 2D systems, such as crystals that are only an atom thick. Scientists struggled to bring it to 3D - the state that most materials exist in - and this severely limited the future applications that QHE could have in computing and electronics.

The research team, led by Assistant Professor Yang Shengyuan of SUTD, was involved in the first experimental demonstration of the QHE in three dimensions.

The breakthrough, reported in the journal Nature, had been predicted to be possible by physicist Bertrand Halperin in 1987, but it took over 30 years for scientists to achieve it because the conditions for the QHE in 3D are very restrictive. The materials which scientists use have to be extremely pure and very cold (near absolute zero), and allow the electrons to move easily.

SUTD's collaborator, the Southern University of Science and Technology in China, developed a material known as ZrTe5 that satisfies those unique conditions.

Said Prof Yang: "With this result, we expect interesting phenomena to be discovered.

"We can better understand new materials that can have applications in electronics and computing."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2019, with the headline 'SUTD team helps make leap in quantum mechanics'. Print Edition | Subscribe