There’s a particle that physicists theorize exists that acts simultaneously as both matter and antimatter. Whoa! The particle is called the Majorana fermion, and a team of physicists is announcing today that it’s seen some evidence of its existence.
The announcement is part of a recent flurry of research aimed at finding Majorana fermions, including studies that have found other evidence of the particles’ existence. Majorana fermions are exotic particles, or particles with unusual properties that at least some physics theories predict should exist. Often scientists don’t have direct evidence of certain exotic particles. Examples include the particles that may make up dark matter, or surprising finds in particle colliders such as the one at CERN. Among the exotic particles in the universe, Majorana fermions may be among the easiest to create and detect, the New Journal of Physics reports. It’s no wonder many groups are working on it.
In addition to being cool, and confirming some physics hypotheses, the discovery of Majorana fermions may one day help with the creation of quantum computers. University of California-Santa Barbara physicist Alexei Kitaev has predicted that Majorana fermions may be used as a qubits, or the quantum equivalent of bits in a conventional computer, because they are stable.
Majorana fermions are predicted to appear in materials called topological superconductors. In this recent work, a team of physicists from Princeton University and the University of Texas at Austin created a topological superconductor by creating single-atom-wide chains of iron atoms on a piece of pure lead. Team members used a two-story-tall scanning tunneling microscope housed at Princeton to map their chains. At the ends of the chains, the team detected zero-energy states—a sign of Majorana fermions.
They published their work today in the journal Science.