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.