January 9, 2023
One of the biggest achievements of quantum physics was recasting our vision of the atom. Out was the early 1900s model of a solar system in miniature. Instead, quantum physics showed that electrons meander around the nucleus in clouds that look like tiny balloons. These balloons are known as atomic orbitals, and they come in all sorts of different shapes—perfectly round, two-lobed, clover-leaf-shaped. That’s all well and good for individual atoms, but when atoms come together to form something solid—like a chunk of metal, say—the outermost electrons in the atoms link arms and lose sight of the nucleus they came from, forming many oversized balloons that span the whole chunk of metal. Now, researchers have produced the first experimental evidence that one metal—and likely others in its class—have electrons that manage to preserve a more interesting, multi-lobed structure as they move around in a solid.