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Machine learning reveals how strongly interacting electrons behave at atomic level

Machine learning helps solve a puzzle of how strongly interacting electrons behave at atomic level

University of Oxford

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IMAGE: Background: a real experiment image of electron density from one of the group's microscopes. Inset: the architecture of ANN that were trained to 'look at' such images and report back... view more 

Credit: JC Séamus Davis

For the last 100 years materials such as gold and silicon have been conduits to the force which has powered civilisation: electronics. And in all such conventional materials the behaviour of electrons is simple: they largely ignore each other.

However, future electronics designed for quantum technologies requires development of new quantum materials. In quantum materials, e.g. high temperature superconductors, electrons interact so strongly and behave so strangely that, until now, they have defied explanation.

But now, scientists have made a significant breakthrough in both technique and understanding. Based on a suite of 80 artificial neural networks (ANN) that they had designed and trained to recognize different forms of electronic matter, machine learning has discovered a new state called a Vestigial Nematic State (VNS).

Lead author, Prof. JC Séamus Davis, of University of Oxford, said: 'I have focused on visualisation of electrons at atomic level. Twenty years ago we developed a microscope that could see directly where all electrons are in the quantum materials, and how the function.

'In this new collaboration with Professors Eun-Ah Kim (Cornell) and E. Kathami (San Jose State) , we fed an electronic image archive gathered over about 20 years - 1000s of electronic structure images - into these artificial neural networks. To my amazement it actually worked! The Vestigial Nematic State had been predicted by theorists but there was no experimental evidence. It was thrilling to see how the new machine learning technique discovered it hiding in plain sight. '

It is a milestone for general scientific technique as it demonstrates how machine learning techniques can process and identify specific symmetries of highly complex image-arrays from electronic quantum matter data.

By fusing machine learning with quantum matter visualisation the scientists believe that it will accelerate quantum material advances, especially in the area of high temperature superconductivity, in the quest for room temperature quantum computers.

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For more information or to request interviews and images, please contact the University of Oxford press office at ruth.abrahams@admin.ox.ac.uk / 01865 280730.

Read the full article: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1319-8 in Nature.

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