Researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles have claimed to have uncovered the long sought-after Majorana particle, which could be used in quantum computing to block intruders on sensitive communication networks.
The Majorana particles were predicted more than 80 years ago by Italian theoretical physicist Ettore Majorana (hence the name). However, US Army-funded researchers said the find could see the particles becoming critical building blocks for quantum computers because their unusual properties make them resistant to external interference and prevent loss of quantum information.
The scientists believe the discovery not only solves a long standing problem in physics, but also opens up a potential avenue to control Majorana fermions for creating robust topological quantum computing,
"Prior experimental approaches based on semiconductor nanowires on superconductors have produced inconclusive signals which could also be attributed to other effects," said Dr Joe Qiu, manager of the Solid-State Electronics Program within the Engineering Sciences Directorate at the Army Research Office.
"The UCLA experiment using stacked layers of magnetic topological insulator and superconductor has demonstrated the clearest and most unambiguous evidence of the particles as predicted by theory so far."
The research is backed by a close interdisciplinary collaboration between a team of researchers including electrical engineers, physicists and material scientists, but funded by an Army Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative, or MURI.
This is because the US Army believes quantum computers could solve problems much more quickly and efficiently than classical computers, and potentially lead to a significant improvement in situational awareness with the capability to process large amount of available data, a "fundamental priority research area".
"Because the Majorana particle is its own anti-particle - carrying zero electrical charge - it is viewed as the best candidate to carry a quantum bit, or qubit, the unit of data that would be the foundation of quantum computers," Qiu explained.
"Unlike 'bits' of data in standard computers, which can be represented as either 0s or 1s, qubits have the ability to be both 0s and 1s, a property that would give quantum computers exponentially more computing power and speed than today's best supercomputers."
In the experiment, the Majorana particles travelled along the topological insulator's edges in a distinct braid-like pattern, said the researchers. They added that the next step in their research will explore how to use Majorana particles in quantum braiding, which would knit them together to allow information to be stored and processed at super high speeds.
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