Meet These New Quantum Particles...

Jul 24, 2015 By Arjun S, Writer Intern
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Motivated by deep and fascinating questions, scientists are always in pursuit of answers. How can we increase computing power in the near future? What is the true nature of matter, the stuff that makes up everything in the universe? 

Incredibly, scientists might have come a long way towards answering both of these questions. Two new particles long thought to have existed -- the pentaquark and the Weyl fermion were experimentally confirmed in groundbreaking news out of MIT, Princeton, and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). 

While the pentaquark can help us understand what makes up matter, the Weyl fermion could increase speed and efficiency in computing power. Let’s dive in, shall we?

The Matter Of The Pentaquark

In 1964, physicist Murray Gell-Mann proposed that protons and neutrons, conventionally thought of as two of the three building blocks of matter (along with electrons), were actually made of even smaller particles: quarks, and their opposites, antiquarks. Gell-Mann’s theory was quickly validated by experimentation, but a curious result emerged: further investigation revealed that according to this theory, a new type of particle, the pentaquark, should exist as well. But where to find it?

The pentaquark, made up of four quarks and an antiquark glued together, proved remarkably elusive to find. Finally, researchers at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) struck gold (read more about LHC here).

Guy Wilkinson and his team at the LHC were studying the way in which a type of baryon, a particle made up of protons and neutrons, decayed into three other particles. They noticed that the baryon did not decay all at once; there was a slight spike, which suggested an intermediate stage of decay. Crunching the numbers, they found that the only particle that this intermediate stage could be was the pentaquark. 

These results not only validate the Standard Model of Particle Physics (a field of study that explores particles that make up the subatomic world) but also raise some new questions. How are the quarks glued together? What forces are at play here, and could answering these questions help us understand other processes, like star formation? We’ll have to find out.

Electrifying News - The Weyl Fermion

Only a couple of days after the confirmation of the pentaquark, the scientific world was jolted again by the discovery of the Weyl fermion. A fermion is a classification of subatomic particles that have a specific spin. For example, protons and neutrons are types of fermions. Like the pentaquark, this particular fermion didn’t just come out of the blue; physicist Herman Weyl proposed the existence of such a particle 85 years ago.

A team of scientists led by Princeton University found the fermion by bombarding crystals of tantalum arsenide with beams of light. Tantalum arsenide is a substance with properties in between an insulator and conductor—that is, it is a weak conductor of electricity. The Weyl fermion can’t exist on its own; rather, it is found as ‘disturbances’ in a medium that behaves like particles. 

The unique properties of the Weyl fermion might open up new doors to faster and more efficient computers. Because the particles experience no attractive forces and can create massless electrons, the idea is that they could allow electrons to flow more easily and release less heat. This could lead to potentially groundbreaking speeds in how data can be transmitted.