Finding ‘Beautiful’ Symmetry Near Absolute Zero

There’s beauty in the world of condensed matter physics, if you know where to look.

Physicist Alan Tennant found it in the transitions between quantum states of cobalt ions cooled to temperatures near absolute zero and then subjected to high magnetic fields.


Let me explain.

A Previously Hidden Order

The point here, as Tennant says, is that in the weird quantum world, under certain precise conditions, an order in nature emerges that was previously unknown.

“When I started out I really expected that quantum systems would be somehow more complicated and somehow more confusing than the everyday world that we’re familiar with,” he says. “But every system that we’ve looked at has turned out to be elegant; it’s turned out to be truly beautiful.”

So beauty lies at the heart of matter. But the English poet John Keats already knew that. In his “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” he said:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Lie group E8


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