Physicists Discover Elusive Particle For Ultra-Powerful Future Electronics
Physicists at Princeton University and other laboratories in the US, China, Taiwan, and Singapore, have discovered elusive massless particles with weird physical properties, known as Weyl fermions, which were first theorized in 1929 and could have important implications for future high-performance electronics.
The research is published in Science with the title “Discovery of a Weyl Fermion semimetal and topological Fermi arcs.” The work builds on and confirms previous theoretical research published in Nature Communications with the title “A Weyl Fermion semimetal with surface Fermi arcs in the transition metal monopnictide TaAs class,” which is freely available online.
Team leader Zahid Hasan, a Princeton professor of physics, said:
The physics of the Weyl fermion are so strange, there could be many things that arise from this particle that we’re just not capable of imagining now.
Applications in Next-Generation Electronics and Quantum Computing
The discovery is important because it could allow for higher power and a nearly free and efficient flow of electricity in next-generation electronics and computers. Weyl fermions could permit developing faster and more efficient electronics because of their unusual ability to behave as matter and antimatter inside a crystal.
The researchers found that Weyl fermions can be used to create “massless electrons” that move very quickly with no backscattering, wherein electrons are lost when they collide with an obstruction. In electronics, backscattering hinders efficiency and generates heat. Weyl electrons simply move through and around roadblocks.
“It’s like they have their own GPS and steer themselves without scattering,” said Hasan. “They will move and move only in one direction since they are either right-handed or left-handed and never come to an end because they just tunnel through.”
These are very fast electrons that behave like unidirectional light beams and can be used for new types of quantum computing.
The Weyl fermions were discovered inside a synthetic metallic crystal called tantalum arsenide that the Princeton researchers designed in collaboration with researchers at the Collaborative Innovation Center of Quantum Matter in Beijing and at National Taiwan University. The scientists researched and simulated dozens of crystal structures before finding the one suitable for holding Weyl fermions and confirming the result with a scanning tunneling spectromicroscope.
“Professor Hasan’s experiments report the observation of both the unusual properties in the bulk of the crystal as well as the exotic surface states that were theoretically predicted,” said University of California-Berkeley physicist Ashvin Vishwanath. “While it is early to say what practical implications this discovery might have, it is worth noting that Weyl materials are direct 3-D electronic analogs of graphene, which is being seriously studied for potential applications.”
Images from Princeton University.