Recent experiments seem to prove a radical new theory of what matter and particles are, a new model hinted at by an experiment performed twenty years ago – and as it turns out, not only may this new “exotic matter” be what the universe is really made of, we may have found it naturally occuring here on the Earth.

And it may be the solution for practical quantum computing and memory – wow…

Why do I mention this in a blog devoted to self-development, consciousness, and the “spiritual” quest? Because this is an example of model change, paradigm shift, in action, in the hardest of sciences (physics).

Self-development and the exploration of consciousness is also undergoing a model change – but it’s happening much more slowly, and is fraught with a lot of emotional distress and mis-steps.

So, I mention this New Scientist article because (1) exotic matter is just cool, and (2) explorers of consciousness need to be aware of, and to study, model changes and paradigm shifts.

New Scientist article – “The universe is a string-net liquid”

“From this, the researchers made another leap. Could the entire universe be modelled in a similar way? “Suddenly we realised, maybe the vacuum of our whole universe is a string-net liquid,” says Wen. “It would provide a unified explanation of how both light and matter arise.” So in their theory elementary particles are not the fundamental building blocks of matter. Instead, they emerge from the deeper structure of the non-empty vacuum of space-time.

“Wen and Levin’s theory is really beautiful stuff,” says Michael Freedman, 1986 winner of the Fields medal, the highest prize in mathematics, and a quantum computing specialist at Microsoft Station Q at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “I admire their approach, which is to be suspicious of anything – electrons, photons, Maxwell’s equations – that everyone else accepts as fundamental.”

Other theories that try to explain the same phenomena abound, of course; Wen and Levin realise that the burden of proof is on them. It may not be far off. Their model predicts specific arrangements of atoms in the new state of matter, which they dub the “string-net liquid”, and Joel Helton’s group at MIT might have found it.

Helton was aware of Wen’s work and decided to look for such materials. Trawling through geology journals, his team spotted a candidate – a dark green crystal that geologists stumbled across in the mountains of Chile in 1972. “The geologists named it after a mineralogist they really admired, Herbert Smith, labelled it and put it to one side,” says team member Young Lee. “They didn’t realise the potential herbertsmithite would have for physicists years later.”

Herbertsmithite (pictured) is unusual because its electrons are arranged in a triangular lattice. Normally, electrons prefer to line up so that their spins are in the opposite direction to that of their immediate neighbours, but in a triangle this is impossible – there will always be neighbouring electrons spinning in the same direction. Wen and Levin’s model shows that such a system would be a string-net liquid.

Although herbertsmithite exists in nature, the mineral contains impurities that disrupt any string-net signatures, says Lee. So Helton’s team made a pure sample in the lab. “It was painstaking,” says Lee. “It took us a full year to prepare it and another year to analyse it.””