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Experimental confirmation of universality for a phase transition in two dimensions


WHEN a system is poised at a critical point between two macroscopic phases, it exhibits dynamical structures on all available spatial scales, even though the underlying microscopic interactions tend to have a characteristic length scale. According to the universality hypothesis1,2, diverse physical systems that share the same essential symmetry properties will exhibit the same physical behaviour close to their critical points1,3–5; if this is so, even highly idealized models can be used to describe real systems accurately. Here we report experimental confirmation that the scaling behaviour of thermodynamic variables predicted by the universality hypothesis holds over 18 orders of magnitude. We show that the equation of state of a two-dimensional system (an atomic layer of ferromagnetic iron deposited on a non-magnetic substrate) closely follows the behaviour6 of the two-dimensional Ising model7—the first and most elementary statistical model of a macroscopic system with short-range interactions3.

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Back, C., Würsch, C., Vaterlaus, A. et al. Experimental confirmation of universality for a phase transition in two dimensions. Nature 378, 597–600 (1995).

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