Oct 06, 2014 01:38 AM EDT
discoveries are often few and far between. But it turns out that physics may have a new chapter added to the record books as researchers at Princeton University have solved the mystery of "Majorana Particles".
Well, solved may not be the most accurate of terms, given that the nature of the particles has yet to reveal itself entirely, but at least know they're a tangible reality.
Originally theorized in 1937 by Italiana physicist Ettore Majorana, "Majorana Particles" are at once matter and their antimatter counterparts. Rather than being distinct components, Majorana believed that some particles could in fact act as their own counterparts when conditions permitted. And though he couldn't prove it himself, given the large gap in technology over the past 80 years, his hypotheses seem to be quite true now.
Publishing their discovery of the long theorized particles of conjecture in this week's issue of the journal Science, a research team led by Princeton professor Ali Yazdani found that in a superconducting lab-created context the elusive Majorana Particles would reveal themselves. But only to the super-trained scientific eye.
In fact, in order to capture the Majorana fermion particle perched on the edge of a single iron ion, the researchers had to use a two-story tall microscope floating in an ultralow-vibration lab at Princeton's Jadwin Hall.
"This is the most direct way of looking for the Majorana fermion since it is expected ot emerge at the edge of certain materials" Yazdani says. "If you want to find this particle within a material you have to use such a microscope, which allows you to see where it actually is."
Creating the perfect conditions in a lab, that seemed contrary to popular beliefs regarding the stability of antimatter and matter particles, the researchers found that by superconducting a long chain of iron atoms all simultaneously so that the spins of their electrons would align, they could find the Majorana particles with great stability on the outskirts of the atom chain. When the unique form of aligned magnetism is created, the neighborless atoms at the ends of the arrangement reveal lone electrons that appear to take on properties of both electrons and antielectrons-becoming Majorana particles themselves.
Rather than simply being found as Majorana suspected could be done in nature, the particles found by the Princeton physicists are a unique form of an "emergent particle", whose properties are induced by the collective conditions within the superconductor.
While the particles must be further researched to conclusively rule them out as being anything else, Yazdani is excited about what the potentially simple project could lead to. Becoming much more than lead and iron, the particles found could be a physicist's gold mine for future research.
"What's very exciting is that it is very simple: it is just lead and iron" Yazdani says. "And it can be practically beneficial. Because [the contained system does not involve particle accelerators], it allows scientists to manipulate exotic particles for potential applications, such as quantum computing."
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