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SYFY WIRE Quantum Mechanics

Dark Nights Metal is (almost) real because "strange metals" are kind of like multiverses in themselves

By Elizabeth Rayne
Batman in Dark Nights: Metal

So maybe none of us are Batman (though we all wish we were), but something that actually exists is eerily similar to the phenomenon of metals connecting the dark multiverses in Dark Nights: Metal.

The difference between fiction and science here is that there are no evil versions hiding out — at least none that we know of. What is real is the bizarre connection that happens in “strange” or Planckian metals. This has been theorized for years by researchers peering into the shadows of quantum mechanics, kind of like how the Green Lantern’s ring gave Batman a look into the multiverses with seven evil versions of himself. But now, Cornell University physicists have been able to simulate the behavior of “strange metals” more accurately than ever.

"In 'Planckian metals,' electrons dissipate energy at the fastest possible rate allowed by the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics, resulting in a linear temperature dependence of their electrical resistivity,” said doctoral student Peter Cha, who recently led a study published in PNAS.

Subatomic particles behave differently in various substances. Strange metals are a new state of matter that exist somewhere between metals and insulators. The outer electrons in metals can stay far away from each other because they don’t have a strong attachment to the nucleus, which explains why metals make amazing conductors. Superconductors can even conduct at extremely low temperatures, since electrons have enough space between them for a jolt of electricity to pass right through. Insulators are the exact opposite. Electrons are forced to stay in the same place depending how they spin on their axes, causing the material to resist electric currents.

Batman in Dark Nights: Metal

Strange metals behave like the deranged offspring of conductors and insulators. In these metals, which start out as superconductors but are heated to the point that they can no longer superconduct, electrons are stuck in a weird in-between state. They distance themselves as they would in a metal and resist electricity as they would in an insulator. The thing is, they also behave chaotically. As Cha said, they dissipate energy (more on that later). So how can chaotic strange metals morph into impeccably organized high-temperature superconductors? It’s almost an oxymoron.

This mystery is why the research team created a simulation that shows how strange metals behave at the pivotal point where they transition between states of matter. Cha and his colleagues messed with the electrons’ kinetic (moving) energy that is seen in metals, and their interaction energy — or forces that keep spinning electrons stuck where they are in insulators. Strange things were revealed about strange metals in the process. Further distancing between electrons brought on by interaction energy would put them in a spin glass insulator state, meaning they would remain frozen, with their spins being the only evidence of them being there. Upping kinetic energy produced a type of liquid metal state.

The resulting simulation showed how metals exhibit Planckian behavior down to the lowest possible temperature, which is absolute zero or -523.67 degrees Fahrenheit. Nobody knows what would happen if the researchers analyzed Batmanium.

It gets weirder. Batman probably never thought that he might have been dealing with strange metals, because strange metals could be evidence for the phenomenon of quantum entanglement. Any two or more objects that are entangled this way remain connected no matter how far away they are; so if a particle on Earth is entangled with a particle floating somewhere out in the deep reaches of space, they will behave the same exact way, no matter what. Fiction can always stretch that to multiverses instead of objects. What science has been extending it to is black holes. There are parallels between how strange metals dissipate energy and how black holes are believed to evaporate. There is a theory that states two quantum-entangled black holes, however far away, can be connected by a wormhole.

Just like multiverses, wormholes are theoretical, so we might need a superhero to explain that one. Maybe that could inspire a second wave of Dark Nights: Metal.