"Stranger than metals" in the journal Science
7/8/2022 11:06:10 AM
Landau’s Fermi liquid theory provides the bedrock on which our understanding of metals has developed over the past 65 years. Its basic premise is that the electrons transporting a current can be treated as “quasiparticles”—electron-like particles whose effective mass has been modified, typically through interactions with the atomic lattice and/or other electrons. For a long time, it seemed as though Landau’s theory could account for all the many-body interactions that exist inside a metal, even in the so-called heavy fermion systems whose quasiparticle mass can be up to three orders of magnitude heavier than the electron’s mass. Fermi liquid theory also lay the foundation for the first successful microscopic theory of superconductivity.
In the past few decades, a number of new metallic systems have been discovered that violate this paradigm. The violation is most evident in the way that the electrical resistivity changes with temperature or magnetic field. In normal metals in which electrons are the charge carriers, the resistivity increases with increasing temperature but saturates, both at low temperatures (because the quantized lattice vibrations are frozen out) and at high temperatures (because the electron mean free path dips below the smallest scattering pathway defined by the lattice spacing). In “strange metals,” by contrast, no saturation occurs, implying that the quasiparticle description breaks down and electrons are no longer the primary charge carriers. When the particle picture breaks down, no local entity carries the current.
A new classification of metallicity is not a purely academic exercise, however, as strange metals tend to be the high-temperature phase of some of the best superconductors available. Understanding high-temperature superconductivity stands as a grand challenge because its resolution is fundamentally rooted in the physics of strong interactions, a regime where electrons no longer move independently. Precisely what new emergent phenomena one obtains from the interactions that drive the electron dynamics above the temperature where they superconduct is one of the most urgent problems in physics, attracting the attention of condensed matter physicists as well as string theorists. One thing is clear in this regime: The particle picture breaks down. As particles and locality are typically related, the strange metal raises the distinct possibility that its resolution must abandon the basic building blocks of quantum theory.
We review the experimental and theoretical studies that have shaped our current understanding of the emergent strongly interacting physics realized in a host of strange metals, with a special focus on their poster-child: the copper oxide high-temperature superconductors. Experiments are highlighted that attempt to link the phenomenon of nonsaturating resistivity to parameter-free universal physics. A key experimental observation in such materials is that removing a single electron affects the spectrum at all energy scales, not just the low-energy sector as in a Fermi liquid. It is observations of this sort that reinforce the breakdown of the single-particle concept. On the theoretical side, the modern accounts that borrow from the conjecture that strongly interacting physics is really about gravity are discussed extensively, as they have been the most successful thus far in describing the range of physics displayed by strange metals. The foray into gravity models is not just a pipe dream because in such constructions, no particle interpretation is given to the charge density. As the breakdown of the independent-particle picture is central to the strange metal, the gravity constructions are a natural tool to make progress on this problem. Possible experimental tests of this conjecture are also outlined.
As more strange metals emerge and their physical properties come under the scrutiny of the vast array of experimental probes now at our disposal, their mysteries will be revealed and their commonalities and differences cataloged. In so doing, we should be able to understand the universality of strange metal physics. At the same time, the anomalous nature of their superconducting state will become apparent, offering us hope that a new paradigm of pairing of non-quasiparticles will also be formalized. The correlation between the strength of the linear-in-temperature resistivity in cuprate strange metals and their corresponding superfluid density, as revealed here, certainly hints at a fundamental link between the nature of strange metallicity and superconductivity in the cuprates. And as the gravity-inspired theories mature and overcome the challenge of projecting their powerful mathematical machinery onto the appropriate crystallographic lattice, so too will we hope to build with confidence a complete theory of strange metals as they emerge from the horizon of a black hole.
This "structured abstract" is reprinted with permission from the authors. Read the Science review article here: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abh4273.