Monday, September 15, 2014

What is a "bad metal"? What is a "strange metal"?

Way back in the mists of time, I wrote about what what physicists mean when they say that some material is a metal.  In brief, a metal is a material that has an electrical resistivity that decreases with decreasing temperature, and in bulk has low energy excitations of the electron system down to arbitrarily low energies (no energy gap in the spectrum).  In a conventional or good metal, it makes sense to think about the electrons in terms of a classical picture often called the Drude model or a semiclassical (more quantum mechanical) picture called the Sommerfeld model.  In the former, you can think of the electrons as a gas, with the idea that the electrons travel some typical distance scale, \(\ell\), the mean free path, between scattering events that randomize the direction of the electron motion.  In the latter, you can think of a typical electronic state as a plane-wave-like object with some characteristic wavelength (of the highest occupied state) \(\lambda_{\mathrm{F}}\) that propagates effortlessly through the lattice, until it comes to a defect (break in the lattice symmetry) causing it to scatter.  In a good metal, \(\ell >> \lambda_{\mathrm{F}}\), or equivalently \( (2\pi/\lambda_{\mathrm{F}})\ell >> 1\).  Electrons propagate many wavelengths between scattering events.  Moreover, it also follows (given how many valence electrons come from each atom in the lattice) that \(\ell >> a\), where \(a\) is the lattice constant, the atomic-scale distance between adjacent atoms.

Another property of a conventional metal:  At low temperatures, the temperature-dependent part of the resistivity is dominated by electron-electron scattering, which in turn is limited by the number of empty electronic states that are accessible (e.g., not already filled and this forbidden as final states due to the Pauli principle).    The number of excited electrons (that in a conventional metal called a Fermi liquid act roughly like ordinary electrons, with charge \(-e\) and spin 1/2) is proportional to \(T\), and therefore the number of empty states available at low energies as "targets" for scattering is also proportional to \(T\), leading to a temperature-varying contribution to the resistivity proportional to \(T^{2}\).

bad metal is one in which some or all of these assumptions fail, empirically.  That is, a bad metal has gapless excitations, but if you analyze its electrical properties and tried to model them conventionally, you might find that the \(\ell\) that you infer from the data might be small compared to a lattice spacing.   This is called violating the Ioffe-Mott-Regel limit, and can happen in metals like rutile VO2 or LaSrCuO4 at high temperatures.

strange metal is a more specific term.  In a variety of systems, instead of having the resistivity scale like \(T^{2}\) at low temperatures, the resistivity scales like \(T\).  This happens in the copper oxide superconductors near optimal doping.  This happens in the related ruthenium oxides.  This happens in some heavy fermion metals right in the "quantum critical" regime.  This happens in some of the iron pnictide superconductors.  In some of these materials, when some technique like photoemission is applied, instead of finding ordinary electron-like quasiparticles, a big, smeared out "incoherent" signal is detected.  The idea is that in these systems there are not well-defined (in the sense of long-lived) electron-like quasiparticles, and these systems are not Fermi liquids.

There are many open questions remaining - what is the best way to think about such systems?  If an electron is injected from a boring metal into one of these, does it "fractionalize", in the sense of producing a huge number of complicated many-body excitations of the strange metal?  Are all strange metals the same deep down?  Can one really connect these systems with quantum gravity?  Fun stuff.


Ted said...

Thank you for taking the time to put together this post, and many others like it. Condensed matter physics sorely needs such accessible expositions!

Ross H. McKenzie said...

Hi Doug,

Thanks for posting about bad metals. They deserve more attention.

This post might be of interest. It references a recent preprint
Absence of a quantum limit to charge diffusion in bad metals
that shows results that are inconsistent with the proposals based on techniques from quantum gravity.

c.b. said...

Thanks for this post. Seems like there’s always something new I learn even after being in the field for 25 years...

Douglas Natelson said...

Thanks for the supportive words, everyone. Ross, I had just seen the preprint on the arxiv and placed it in my queue to read. I'm curious about your DMFT approach in the single-band Hubbard model. Can you calculate other quantities, specifically the shot noise in some model configuration? Or the shot noise at the interface between a boring metal (nearly free electron gas) and such a Hubbard model? Please pardon if these are dumb questions, as I know little about how these calculations are performed numerically.

Ross H. McKenzie said...

Hi Doug,

Thanks for the interest.
Your questions are not dumb, but profound and difficult.
Calculating bulk equilibrium (including linear response) properties such as conductivity are "straight-forward" in DMFT. It involves a self-consistent solution of an Anderson impurity model, i.e. it is of comparable difficulty to the Kondo problem in a quantum dot.
I presume you want shot noise in an out-of-equilibrium problem (i.e. non-linear in voltage) and mesoscopic situation. This has not been explicitly been done before with DMFT, but is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. People have done out of equilibrium DMFT and DMFT for nano structures.
Why do you ask? Are these experiments you or others may do soon?

Douglas Natelson said...

Hi, Ross - As you inferred, I've been thinking about experiments in this area. I'll be in touch via email to discuss this, if you're interested.

Helen Allen said...

Very interesting article. I work for, and i have the assignment on this very topic) your article has helped me a tot!

Helen said...

Very interesting article. I work for, and i have the assignment on this very topic) your article has helped me a tot

Hastelloy C22 said...

Bad metal and strange metal concepts are explained so well and such understandable way. The questions raised at the end of the post were really interesting. I would really like to seek answers for them.