Fractionalized excitations that emerge from a many-body system have revealed rich physics and concepts, from composite fermions in two-dimensional electron systems, revealed through the fractional quantum Hall effect, to spinons in antiferromagnetic chains and, more recently, fractionalization of Dirac electrons in graphene and magnetic monopoles in spin ice. Even more surprising is the fragmentation of the degrees of freedom themselves, leading to coexisting and a priori independent ground states.
This puzzling phenomenon was recently put forward in the context of spin ice, in which the magnetic moment field can fragment, resulting in a dual ground state consisting of a fluctuating spin liquid, a so-called Coulomb phase, on top of a magnetic monopole crystal. In a Nature Physics publication it is reported that, by means of neutron scattering measurements, such fragmentation occurs in the spin ice candidate Nd2Zr2O7. A spectacular coexistence of an antiferromagnetic order induced by the monopole crystallization and a fluctuating state with ferromagnetic correlations is observed. Experimentally, this fragmentation manifests itself through the superposition of magnetic Bragg peaks, characteristic of the ordered phase, and a pinch point pattern, characteristic of the Coulomb phase. These results highlight the relevance of the fragmentation concept to describe the physics of systems that are simultaneously ordered and fluctuating.