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A ‘ray’ of light on complex systems

Ginestra Bianconi, an assistant professor of physics at Northeastern University, was part of a team of scientists who discovered an innovative way of using external stimuli, such as x-rays, to bring disorganized oxygen atoms to a state of equilibrium in only one day—a process that would normally take months to accomplish.

The findings — published this week in the journal Nature Materials — constitute a major breakthrough in the field of cuprate superconductivity, a branch of science that investigates the highly efficient and conductive manner of metal oxides.

The results were surprising. Bianconi said the team, which included network scientists from Rome and London, expected the X-rays would cause radiation damage rather than bring the field of metal oxides into equilibrium.

As she put it, “It is a beautiful example of a non-equilibrium, disordered system finding equilibrium.”

The network scientists, she noted, are now looking for “a universality that might explain this behavior” on a larger scale.

The research, Bianconi explained, shows that even the most complex systems, including social networks and opinion dynamics—how the dissemination of news affects how people form beliefs—have an intrinsic order that requires precise forces to stimulate.

“This is research into a problem that is common to many different systems and helps us come closer to understanding the problem of systems that are not in a state of equilibrium,” Bianconi said.

View selected publications by Ginestra Bianconi in IRis, Northeastern’s digital archive.

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