Nanowire experiment boosts confidence in Majorana sighting
In the latest experiment of its kind, researchers have captured the most compelling evidence to date that unusual particles lurk inside a special kind of superconductor.
The stowaways, dubbed Majorana quasiparticles, are different from ordinary matter like electrons or quarks—the stuff that makes up the elements of the periodic table. Unlike those particles, which as far as physicists know can’t be broken down into more basic pieces, Majorana quasiparticles arise from coordinated patterns of many atoms and electrons and only appear under special conditions. They are endowed with unique features that may allow them to form the backbone of one type of quantum computer, and researchers have been chasing after them for years.
The latest result is the most tantalizing yet for Majorana hunters, confirming many theoretical predictions and laying the groundwork for more refined experiments in the future. In the new work, researchers measured the electrical current passing through an ultra-thin semiconductor connected to a strip of superconducting aluminum—a recipe that transforms the whole combination into a special kind of superconductor.
Experiments of this type expose the nanowire to a strong magnet, which unlocks an extra way for electrons in the wire to organize themselves at low temperatures. With this additional arrangement the wire is predicted to host a Majorana quasiparticle, and experimenters can look for its presence by carefully measuring the wire’s electrical response.
The success comes after years of refinements in the way that researchers assemble the nanowires, leading to cleaner contact between the semiconductor wire and the aluminum strip. In this test, experimenters compared their results to theoretical calculations by PFC-funded researchers at JQI.