After 85 years of hard work and searching, scientists have confirmed the presence of a massless particle called the Weyl fermion for the first time ever. With the exceptional ability to act as both matter and anti-matter inside a crystal, this odd particle can produce electrons that have no mass. The discovery is a big step, not just because we lastly have proof that these mysterious particles exist, but because it paves the way for far more effective electronics, and new types of quantum computing. Lead investigator and physicist M. Zahid Hasan from Princeton University in the US told AnthonyCuthbertson of IBTimes "Weyl fermions could be used to solve the traffic jams that you get with electrons in electronics - they can move in a much more efficient, ordered way than electrons.They could lead to a new type of electronics we call 'Weyltronics'."
So what precisely is a Weyl fermion? Even though we're often taught in high school science that the Universe is made up of atoms, but from a particle physicists’ perspective, everything is essentially made up of fermions and bosons. Put very basically, fermions are the building blocks that make up all known matter, such as electrons, and bosons are the things that transfer force, such as photons. Electrons are the mainstay of today's electronics, and while they transfer charge pretty well, they also have the affinity to bounce into each other and disseminate, dropping energy and producing heat. But back in 1929, a German physicist called Hermann Weyl hypothesized that a massless fermion must be real, that could transfer charge far more efficiently than regular electrons.
And now the group at Princeton has revealed that they do certainly exist. In fact, they've revealed that in a test medium, Weyl electrons can transfer charge at least 1,000 times faster than electrons in normal semiconductors, and twice as fast as inside wonder-material graphene.
Hasan said in a press release. "It's like they have their own GPS and steer themselves without scattering. 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."
What's mainly cool about the detection is that the scientists found the Weyl fermion in a synthetic crystal in the lab, contrasting most other particle discoveries, for example the well-known Higgs boson, which are only detected in the aftermath of particle collisions. This means that the study is easily reproducible, and researchers will be able to instantly begin figuring out how to use the Weyl fermion in electronics.
The team from Princeton University discovered the particle after particularly formulating a semi-metal crystal called tantalum arsenide, which had formerly been highlighted by scientists in China as a potential 'home' for the Weyl fermion. After finding traces of the mysterious particle in their lab, researchers took the crystals to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California for further study, where they fired high-energy photon rays through them. The signature of the beams on the other side verified that the crystals did certainly contain the Weyl fermion.
Weyl fermions are what's acknowledged as quasiparticles, which means they can only occur in a solid such as a crystal, and not as separate particles. But further study will help researchers work out just how beneficial they could be.