Italian physicist Ettore Majorana has left the world with another long-standing mystery besides the one surrounding his disappearance.
In 1937, a year before he disappears during a boat trip off the coast of Palermo, Majorana predicted the existence of a fermion, the Majorana Particle, that behaves like its own antiparticle. In other words, it’s matter and antimatter at the same time.
For decades, the hunt for the elusive Majorana particle, or quasiparticles, has never ceased, and physicists could find evidence of their existence in several materials.
The Majorana fermions may help in the encoding of information for quantum computers. But for that, they need to find a way to manipulate the Majorana quasiparticles easily.
The Majorana Quasiparticles Under Control
Scientists at Princeton University in New Jersey may have figured out how to manipulate Majorana quasiparticles.
In 2014, a research group at Princeton led by professor of physics Ali Yazdani used a two-story-tall microscope to capture a “glowing image” of the Majorana fermion.
Now, the same team has come back with a new study where they describe a way to manipulate Majorana quasiparticles in a setting combining a superconductor and a topological insulator that makes them more robust.
According to the researchers, this setting makes Majorana fermions resilient against external disturbance, like heat and vibrations, that renders them useless. They also managed to demonstrate how to switch the Majoranas on or off using magnets integrated into the device.
“With this new study, we now have a new way to engineer Majorana quasiparticles in materials. We can verify their existence by imaging them and we can characterize their predicted properties.”
An antiparticle has the same mass but the opposite charge of the particle, and if the two meet, they annihilate each other in a violent release of energy. It’s physicist Paul Dirac who predicted the existence of antiparticles in 1928.
A few years later, in 1932, Carl David Anderson discovered the positron, the electron’s antiparticle. Every fundamental particle in the universe seemed to obey this law, but not the Majorana particles.
When two Majorana twins meet, they don’t mutually-destruct, but sit each at its end, weakly interacting with each other and their environment.
The Majorana pairs are stable enough to allow the storage of quantum information at two locations simultaneously, hence the interest of physicists and computer scientists engineering quantum computers.
The work of Princeton researchers is significant in that it shows that Majorana-based quantum computers aren’t only possible but perhaps one of the best approaches to quantum computing.
“It was a prediction, and it was just sitting there all these years. We decided to explore how one could actually make this structure because of its potential to make Majoranas that would be more robust to material imperfections and temperature.”
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