An interdisciplinary team of mathematicians and physicists has developed a new quantitative approach to understanding the mysterious properties of the materials called glasses. The study is described in a paper in the Nature Publishing Group journal Scientific Reports on January 16, 2015. The research, led by Leonid Berlyand, professor of mathematics at Penn State University and Valerii Vinokur, Argonne Distinguished Fellow in the Materials Science Division of the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, enables a breakthrough in the description of the subclass of glasses, known as a “Coulomb glass,” and has wide-ranging application to understanding a variety of glassy systems in nature.
“The approach we developed provides a launching point for further studies of glasses, whose properties have been too complex for mathematical treatment until now,” said Berlyand.
Glasses -- ranging from familiar window glass to ensembles of interacting electrons in semiconductors and interacting magnetic spins in semiconducting and magnetic electronic devices, have an irregular structure that leads to a situation where the ground state -- the state in which the energy of the system is minimized -- of glasses is achieved by a multitude of configurations of their constituent particles.