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After 85-Year Search, Massless Particle with Promise for Next-Generation Electronics Discovered

A detector image signals the existence of Weyl fermions.

Princeton University researchers have confirmed the existence of Weyl fermions.

Credit: Su-Yang Xu and M. Zahid Hasan/Princeton Department of Physics

Princeton University researchers have confirmed the existence of Weyl fermions, which were first theorized in 1929. Weyl fermions could allow for a nearly free and efficient flow of electricity in electronics, and thus greater power, in next-generation computers.

Unlike electrons, Weyl fermions are massless and possess a high degree of mobility, and the particle's spin is both in the same direction as its motion, known as being right-handed, and in the opposite direction from which it moves, known as left-handed.

The researchers also found Weyl fermions can be used to create massless electrons that move very quickly with no backscattering. "These are very fast electrons that behave like unidirectional light beams and can be used for new types of quantum computing," says Princeton professor M. Zahid Hasan.

The researchers had previously theorized Weyl fermions could exist in a tantalum arsenide crystal. Such crystals were loaded into a scanning tunneling spectromicroscope cooled to near absolute zero and suspended from the ceiling to prevent even atom-sized vibrations. The spectromicroscope determined the crystal matched the theoretical specifications for hosting a Weyl fermion.

"This work really shows why research is so fascinating, because it involved both rational, logical thinking, and also sparks and inspiration," says Princeton researcher Su-Yang Xu.

From Princeton University
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