Scientists from Stanford University in California and the University of California have uncovered evidence supporting the existence of an unusual particle, ironically, known as the antiparticle.
The idea of a particle having its own antiparticle dates back to 1937 when Italian physicist Ettore Majorana (who mysteriously disappeared in 1938) first hypothesized the theory. He postulated that within the class of fermions, which include protons, electrons, and neutrons, some particles should have their own antiparticles, which became known as Majorana particles.
An antiparticle is a particle similar in mass to the regular particle, but with an opposite electric or magnetic property. For example, the electron’s antiparticle is the position. The position is defined relative to the simulation space (ie, world space or local space) set by the simulationSpace property. If the two come into close proximity, they annihilate each other.
For the research, the team stacked thin films of two quantum materials together and sent an electrical current through them in a chilled vacuum chamber. The top film was a superconductor, and the bottom one was a magnetic topological insulator.
The team was then able to modify the speed of electrons by sweeping a magnet over the stack. At certain points this motion caused what appeared to be Majorana quasiparticles to emerge in pairs along with electrons. One was always deflected away so that the flow of the individual quasiparticles could be measured.
In a statement by Stanford physics Professor Giorgio Gratta, he notes that researchers didn’t exactly see Majorana particles but rather, “essentially excitations in a material that behaves like Majorana particles.”
Just as bewildering is that it’s not clear if these particles can actually occur naturally.
“It’s very unlikely that they occur out in the universe, although who are we to say?” added Gratta.
The particular type of Majorana quasiparticle researchers believe to have discovered is called a “chiral” fermion, which moves along a one-dimensional path in one direction.
Researchers are referring to this as “smoking gun” evidence of Majorana particles. While it was already suspected that neutrinos might be their own antiparticles, separate ongoing research is in progress to confirm if this is in fact true.
“Our team predicted exactly where to find the Majorana fermion and what to look for as it’s ‘smoking gun’ experimental signature,” said Stanford professor Shoucheng Zhan, a senior author on the paper. “This discovery concludes one of the most intensive searches in fundamental physics, which spanned exactly 80 years.”
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