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- Qu-transitions. Phase transitions in the quantum era.

Physicists are often so awestruck by the lofty achievements of the past, we end up thinking all the big stuff is done, which blinds us to the revolutions ahead. We are still firmly in the throes of the quantum revolution that began a hundred years ago. Quantum gravity, quantum computers, qu-bits and quantum phase transitions, are manifestations of this ongoing revolution. Nowhere is this more so, than in the evolution of our understanding of the collective properties of quantum matter. Fifty years ago, physicists were profoundly shaken by the discovery of universal power-law correlations at classical second-order phase transitions. Today, interest has shifted to Quantum Phase Transitions: phase transitions at absolute zero driven by the violent jigglings of quantum zero-point motion. Quantum, or Qu-transitions have been observed in ferromagnets, helium-3, ferro-electrics, heavy electron and high temperature superconductors. Unlike its classical counterpart, a quantum critical point is a kind of 'black hole' in the materials phase diagram: a singularity at absolute zero that profoundly influences wide swaths of the material phase diagram at finite temperature. I'll talk about some of the novel ideas in this field including 'avoided criticality' - the idea that high temperature superconductivity nucleates about quantum critical points - and the growing indications that electron quasiparticles break up at a quantum critical point.

©2012 Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics