Several entries from the arxiv this week. My descriptions here are a bit brief b/c of continued real-world constraints.
arxiv:0711.0343 - Dietl, Origin and control of ferromagnetism in dilute magnetic semiconductors and oxides
arxiv:0711.0340 - Dietl, Origin of ferromagnetic response in diluted magnetic semiconductors and oxides
These are two review articles by Tomasz Dietl, one of the big names in the dilute magnetic semiconductor (DMS) game. DMS are semiconductor materials that exhibit ferromagnetic order usually because of doping with transition metal atoms that contain unpaired d electrons, such as manganese. The idea of integrating magnetic materials directly with semiconductor devices, and ideally controlling magnetism via electrical or optical means, is quite appealing. However, it is very challenging to achieve high magnetic ordering temperatures (e.g., room temperature) and decent electronic properties at the same time. In many systems the high doping levels required for the magnetism go hand in hand with lots of disorder, in part because crystal growth must be performed under nonequilibrium conditions to force enough transition metal atoms to sit on the appropriate lattice sites. Anyway, these articles (one coming out in J. Phys.: Cond. Matt.
and the other coming out in J. Appl. Phys.) should give you plenty of reading material if you're interested in this area.
arxiv:0711.0218 - Leek et al., Observation of Berry's phase in a solid state qubit
In basic quantum mechanics we learn that particles are described by a complex wavefunction that has a phase factor. Propagation of a particle in space racks up phase at a rate proportional to the particle's momentum. As Feynman would tell us, each possible trajectory of a particle from A to B then contributes some complex amplitude (with a phase). The total probability of finding the particle at B is the squared magnitude of the sum of all of those amplitudes, rather than the classical sum of the probabilities of each path. Phase differences between paths lead to interference terms, and are the sort of thing responsible for electro diffraction, for example. Besides propagating through space, there are other ways of accumulating phase. In the case of the Aharanov-Bohm effect, the vector potential leads to an additional phase factor that depends on trajectory. In the general case of Berry's Phase, the slow variation of some external parameters (such as electric fields) can lead to a similar geometrical phase factor. The intro to this paper gives a nice discussion of the classical analog of this in terms of moving a little vector on the surface of a sphere. Anyway, this team has used a solid-state superconducting qubit to demonstrate this geometric phase explicitly. Quite nice.
arxiv:0710.5515 - Castelnovo et al., Magnetic monopoles in spin ice
One of the things that I find so interesting about condensed matter physics is the idea of emergent degrees of freedom. For example, phonons (quantized sound waves) are quantum mechanical quasiparticles in solids that can have well-defined quantum numbers, and arise because of the collective motion of large numbers of atoms. In a more exotic example, Cooper pairs in ordinary superconductors are objects with spin 0, charge -2e, yet are "built" out of electrons plus phonons. In a very exotic example, the quasiparticles in the fractional quantum Hall effect can have fractional charges and obey exotic statistics. In an even more extreme case, these authors propose that there are quasiparticle excitations in a kind of magnetically ordered insulator that act like magnetic monopoles. It seems that magnetic monopoles do not exist as elementary particles. Indeed, they would require a modification of Maxwell's equations. (In this solid state system the argument is that they exist as monopole/antimonopole pairs, so that the net divergence of the magnetic field is still zero). "Forbidden" particles emerging from the collective action of many electrons - a very neat idea, and it would appear that there may even be some experimental evidence for this already.