Tag Archives: quasiparticles

One-dimensional quantum nanowires and Majorana zero modes

Length but no width or height? That’s a quantum nanowire according to a Jan. 18, 2021 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Why is studying spin properties of one-dimensional quantum nanowires important?

Quantum nanowires–which have length but no width or height–provide a unique environment for the formation and detection of a quasiparticle known as a Majorana zero mode.

A new UNSW [University of New South Wales]-led study (Nature Communications, “New signatures of the spin gap in quantum point contacts”) overcomes previous difficulty detecting the Majorana zero mode, and produces a significant improvement in device reproducibility.

Potential applications for Majorana zero modes include fault-resistant topological quantum computers, and topological superconductivity.

A Jan. 19 (?), 2021 ARC (Australian Research Council) Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies (or FLEET) press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the research,


A Majorana fermion is a composite particle that is its own antiparticle.

Antimatter explainer: Every fundamental particle has a corresponding antimatter particle, with the same mass but opposite electrical charge. For example, the antiparticle of an electron (charge -1) is a positron (charge +1)

Such unusual particle’s interest academically and commercially comes from their potential use in a topological quantum computer, predicted to be immune to the decoherence that randomises the precious quantum information.

Majorana zero modes can be created in quantum wires made from special materials in which there is a strong coupling between their electrical and magnetic properties.

In particular, Majorana zero modes can be created in one-dimensional semiconductors (such as semiconductor nanowires) when coupled with a superconductor.

In a one-dimensional nanowire, whose dimensions perpendicular to length are small enough not to allow any movement of subatomic particles, quantum effects predominate.


Majorana fermions, which are their own antiparticle, have been theorised since 1937, but have only been experimentally observed in the last decade. The Majorana fermion’s ‘immunity’ to decoherence provides potential use for fault-tolerant quantum computing.

One-dimensional semiconductor systems with strong spin-orbit interaction are attracting great attention due to potential applications in topological quantum computing.

The magnetic ‘spin’ of an electron is like a little bar magnet, whose orientation can be set with an applied magnetic field.

In materials with a ‘spin-orbit interaction’ the spin of an electron is determined by the direction of motion, even at zero magnetic field. This allows for all electrical manipulation of magnetic quantum properties.

Applying a magnetic field to such a system can open an energy gap such that forward -moving electrons all have the same spin polarisation, and backward-moving electrons have the opposite polarisation. This ‘spin-gap’ is a pre-requisite for the formation of Majorana zero modes.

Despite intense experimental work, it has proven extremely difficult to unambiguously detect this spin-gap in semiconductor nanowires, since the spin-gap’s characteristic signature (a dip in its conductance plateau when a magnetic field is applied) is very hard to distinguish from unavoidable the background disorder in nanowires.

The new study finds a new, unambiguous signature for the spin-orbit gap that is impervious to the disorder effects plaguing previous studies.

“This signature will become the de-facto standard for detecting spin-gaps in the future,” says lead author Dr Karina Hudson.


The use of Majorana zero modes in a scalable quantum computer faces an additional challenge due to the random disorder and imperfections in the self-assembled nanowires that host the MZM.

It has previously been almost impossible to fabricate reproducible devices, with only about 10% of devices functioning within desired parameters.

The latest UNSW results show a significant improvement, with reproducible results across six devices based on three different starting wafers.

“This work opens a new route to making completely reproducible devices,” says corresponding author Prof Alex Hamilton UNSW).

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

New signatures of the spin gap in quantum point contacts by K. L. Hudson, A. Srinivasan, O. Goulko, J. Adam, Q. Wang, L. A. Yeoh, O. Klochan, I. Farrer, D. A. Ritchie, A. Ludwig, A. D. Wieck, J. von Delft & A. R. Hamilton. Nature Communications volume 12, Article number: 5 (2021) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-19895-3 Published: 04 January 2021

This paper is open access.

For anyone who might find references to UNSW and ARC/FLEET confusing, I found this in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies Wikipedia entry,

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies (or FLEET) is a collaboration …

FLEET is an Australian initiative, headquartered at Monash University, and in conjunction with the Australian National University, the University of New South Wales, the University of Queensland, RMIT University, the University of Wollongong and Swinburne University of Technology, complemented by a group of Australian and international partners. It is funded by the Australian Research Council [ARC] and by the member universities. [emphases as seen here are mine]

A quantum phenomenon (Kondo effect) and nanomaterials

This is a little outside my comfort zone but here goes anyway. From a December 23, 2020 news item on phys.org (Note: Links have been removed),

Osaka City University scientists have developed mathematical formulas to describe the current and fluctuations of strongly correlated electrons in quantum dots. Their theoretical predictions could soon be tested experimentally.

Theoretical physicists Yoshimichi Teratani and Akira Oguri of Osaka City University, and Rui Sakano of the University of Tokyo have developed mathematical formulas that describe a physical phenomenon happening within quantum dots and other nanosized materials. The formulas, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, could be applied to further theoretical research about the physics of quantum dots, ultra-cold atomic gasses, and quarks.

At issue is the Kondo effect. This effect was first described in 1964 by Japanese theoretical physicist Jun Kondo in some magnetic materials, but now appears to happen in many other systems, including quantum dots and other nanoscale materials.

A December 23, 2020 Osaka City University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Normally, electrical resistance drops in metals as the temperature drops. But in metals containing magnetic impurities, this only happens down to a critical temperature, beyond which resistance rises with dropping temperatures.

Scientists were eventually able to show that, at very low temperatures near absolute zero, electron spins become entangled with the magnetic impurities, forming a cloud that screens their magnetism. The cloud’s shape changes with further temperature drops, leading to a rise in resistance. This same effect happens when other external ‘perturbations’, such as a voltage or magnetic field, are applied to the metal. 

Teratani, Sakano and Oguri wanted to develop mathematical formulas to describe the evolution of this cloud in quantum dots and other nanoscale materials, which is not an easy task. 

To describe such a complex quantum system, they started with a system at absolute zero where a well-established theoretical model, namely Fermi liquid theory, for interacting electrons is applicable. They then added a ‘correction’ that describes another aspect of the system against external perturbations. Using this technique, they wrote formulas describing electrical current and its fluctuation through quantum dots. 

Their formulas indicate electrons interact within these systems in two different ways that contribute to the Kondo effect. First, two electrons collide with each other, forming well-defined quasiparticles that propagate within the Kondo cloud. More significantly, an interaction called a three-body contribution occurs. This is when two electrons combine in the presence of a third electron, causing an energy shift of quasiparticles. 

“The formulas’ predictions could soon be investigated experimentally”, Oguri says. “Studies along the lines of this research have only just begun,” he adds. 

The formulas could also be extended to understand other quantum phenomena, such as quantum particle movement through quantum dots connected to superconductors. Quantum dots could be a key for realizing quantum information technologies, such as quantum computers and quantum communication.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Fermi Liquid Theory for Nonlinear Transport through a Multilevel Anderson Impurity by Yoshimichi Teratani, Rui Sakano, and Akira Oguri. Phys. Rev. Lett. 125, 216801 (Issue Vol. 125, Iss. 21 — 20 November 2020) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.125.216801 Published Online: 17 November 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

The Weyl fermion and new electronics

This story concerns a quasiparticle (Weyl fermion) which is a different kind of particle than the nanoparticles usually mentioned here. A March 17, 2016 news item on Nanowerk profiles research that suggests the Weyl fermion may find applications in the field of electronics,

The Weyl fermion, just discovered in the past year, moves through materials practically without resistance. Now researchers are showing how it could be put to use in electronic components.

Today electronic devices consume a lot of energy and require elaborate cooling mechanisms. One approach for the development of future energy-saving electronics is to use special particles that exist only in the interior of materials but can move there practically undisturbed. Electronic components based on these so-called Weyl fermions would consume considerably less energy than present-day chips. That’s because up to now devices have relied on the movement of electrons, which is inhibited by resistance and thus wastes energy.

Evidence for Weyl fermions was discovered only in the past year, by several research teams including scientists from the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI). Now PSI researchers have shown — within the framework of an international collaboration with two research institutions in China and the two Swiss technical universities, ETH Zurich and EPF Lausanne — that there are materials in which only one kind of Weyl fermion exists. That could prove decisive for applications in electronic components, because it makes it possible to guide the particles’ flow in the material.

A March 17, 2016 Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) press release by Paul Piwnicki, which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail (Note: There is some redundancy),

In the past year, researchers of the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI were among those who found experimental evidence for a particle whose existence had been predicted in the 1920s — the Weyl fermion. One of the particle’s peculiarities is that it can only exist in the interior of materials. Now the PSI researchers, together with colleagues at two Chinese research institutions as well as at ETH Zurich and EPF Lausanne, have made a subsequent discovery that opens the possibility of using the movement of Weyl fermions in future electronic devices. …

Today’s computer chips use the flow of electrons that move through the device’s conductive channels. Because, along the way, electrons are always colliding with each other or with other particles in the material, a relatively high amount of energy is needed to maintain the flow. That means not only that the device wastes a lot of energy, but also that it heats itself up enough to necessitate an elaborate cooling mechanism, which in turn requires additional space and energy.

In contrast, Weyl fermions move virtually undisturbed through the material and thus encounter practically no resistance. “You can compare it to driving on a highway where all of the cars are moving freely in the same direction,” explains Ming Shi, a senior scientist at the PSI. “The electron flow in present-day chips is more comparable to driving in congested city traffic, with cars coming from all directions and getting in each other’s way.”

Important for electronics: only one kind of particle

While in the materials examined last year there were always several kinds of Weyl fermions, all moving in different ways, the PSI researchers and their colleagues have now produced a material in which only one kind of Weyl fermion occurs. “This is important for applications in electronics, because here you must be able to precisely steer the particle flow,” explains Nan Xu, a postdoctoral researcher at the PSI.

Weyl fermions are named for the German mathematician Hermann Weyl, who predicted their existence in 1929. These particles have some striking characteristics, such as having no mass and moving at the speed of light. Weyl fermions were observed as quasiparticles in so-called Weyl semimetals. In contrast to “real” particles, quasiparticles can only exist inside materials. Weyl fermions are generated through the collective motion of electrons in suitable materials. In general, quasiparticles can be compared to waves on the surface of a body of water — without the water, the waves would not exist. At the same time, their movement is independent of the water’s motion.

The material that the researchers have now investigated is a compound of the chemical elements tantalum and phosphorus, with the chemical formula TaP. The crucial experiments were carried out with X-rays at the Swiss Light Source (SLS) of the Paul Scherrer Institute.

Studying novel materials with properties that could make them useful in future electronic devices is a central research area of the Paul Scherrer Institute. In the process, the researchers pursue a variety of approaches and use many different experimental methods.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Observation of Weyl nodes and Fermi arcs in tantalum phosphide by N. Xu, H. M. Weng, B. Q. Lv, C. E. Matt, J. Park, F. Bisti, V. N. Strocov, D. Gawryluk, E. Pomjakushina, K. Conder, N. C. Plumb, M. Radovic, G. Autès, O. V. Yazyev, Z. Fang, X. Dai, T. Qian, J. Mesot, H. Ding & M. Shi. Nature Communications 7, Article number: 11006  doi:10.1038/ncomms11006 Published 17 March 2016

This paper is open access.

Graphene, Perimeter Institute, and condensed matter physics

In short, researchers at Canada’s Perimeter Institute are working on theoretical models involving graphene. which could lead to quantum computing. A July 3, 2014 Perimeter Institute news release by Erin Bow (also on EurekAlert) provides some insight into the connections between graphene and condensed matter physics (Note: Bow has included some good basic explanations of graphene, quasiparticles, and more for beginners),

One of the hottest materials in condensed matter research today is graphene.

Graphene had an unlikely start: it began with researchers messing around with pencil marks on paper. Pencil “lead” is actually made of graphite, which is a soft crystal lattice made of nothing but carbon atoms. When pencils deposit that graphite on paper, the lattice is laid down in thin sheets. By pulling that lattice apart into thinner sheets – originally using Scotch tape – researchers discovered that they could make flakes of crystal just one atom thick.

The name for this atom-scale chicken wire is graphene. Those folks with the Scotch tape, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, won the 2010 Nobel Prize for discovering it. “As a material, it is completely new – not only the thinnest ever but also the strongest,” wrote the Nobel committee. “As a conductor of electricity, it performs as well as copper. As a conductor of heat, it outperforms all other known materials. It is almost completely transparent, yet so dense that not even helium, the smallest gas atom, can pass through it.”

Developing a theoretical model of graphene

Graphene is not just a practical wonder – it’s also a wonderland for theorists. Confined to the two-dimensional surface of the graphene, the electrons behave strangely. All kinds of new phenomena can be seen, and new ideas can be tested. Testing new ideas in graphene is exactly what Perimeter researchers Zlatko Papić and Dmitry (Dima) Abanin set out to do.

“Dima and I started working on graphene a very long time ago,” says Papić. “We first met in 2009 at a conference in Sweden. I was a grad student and Dima was in the first year of his postdoc, I think.”

The two young scientists got to talking about what new physics they might be able to observe in the strange new material when it is exposed to a strong magnetic field.

“We decided we wanted to model the material,” says Papić. They’ve been working on their theoretical model of graphene, on and off, ever since. The two are now both at Perimeter Institute, where Papić is a postdoctoral researcher and Abanin is a faculty member. They are both cross-appointed with the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo.

In January 2014, they published a paper in Physical Review Letters presenting new ideas about how to induce a strange but interesting state in graphene – one where it appears as if particles inside it have a fraction of an electron’s charge.

It’s called the fractional quantum Hall effect (FQHE), and it’s head turning. Like the speed of light or Planck’s constant, the charge of the electron is a fixed point in the disorienting quantum universe.

Every system in the universe carries whole multiples of a single electron’s charge. When the FQHE was first discovered in the 1980s, condensed matter physicists quickly worked out that the fractionally charged “particles” inside their semiconductors were actually quasiparticles – that is, emergent collective behaviours of the system that imitate particles.

Graphene is an ideal material in which to study the FQHE. “Because it’s just one atom thick, you have direct access to the surface,” says Papić. “In semiconductors, where FQHE was first observed, the gas of electrons that create this effect are buried deep inside the material. They’re hard to access and manipulate. But with graphene you can imagine manipulating these states much more easily.”

In the January paper, Abanin and Papić reported novel types of FQHE states that could arise in bilayer graphene – that is, in two sheets of graphene laid one on top of another – when it is placed in a strong perpendicular magnetic field. In an earlier work from 2012, they argued that applying an electric field across the surface of bilayer graphene could offer a unique experimental knob to induce transitions between FQHE states. Combining the two effects, they argued, would be an ideal way to look at special FQHE states and the transitions between them.

Once the scientists developed their theory they went to work on some experiments,

Two experimental groups – one in Geneva, involving Abanin, and one at Columbia, involving both Abanin and Papić – have since put the electric field + magnetic field method to good use. The paper by the Columbia group appears in the July 4 issue of Science. A third group, led by Amir Yacoby of Harvard, is doing closely related work.

“We often work hand-in-hand with experimentalists,” says Papić. “One of the reasons I like condensed matter is that often even the most sophisticated, cutting-edge theory stands a good chance of being quickly checked with experiment.”

Inside both the magnetic and electric field, the electrical resistance of the graphene demonstrates the strange behaviour characteristic of the FQHE. Instead of resistance that varies in a smooth curve with voltage, resistance jumps suddenly from one level to another, and then plateaus – a kind of staircase of resistance. Each stair step is a different state of matter, defined by the complex quantum tangle of charges, spins, and other properties inside the graphene.

“The number of states is quite rich,” says Papić. “We’re very interested in bilayer graphene because of the number of states we are detecting and because we have these mechanisms – like tuning the electric field – to study how these states are interrelated, and what happens when the material changes from one state to another.”

For the moment, researchers are particularly interested in the stair steps whose “height” is described by a fraction with an even denominator. That’s because the quasiparticles in that state are expected to have an unusual property.

There are two kinds of particles in our three-dimensional world: fermions (such as electrons), where two identical particles can’t occupy one state, and bosons (such as photons), where two identical particles actually want to occupy one state. In three dimensions, fermions are fermions and bosons are bosons, and never the twain shall meet.

But a sheet of graphene doesn’t have three dimensions – it has two. It’s effectively a tiny two-dimensional universe, and in that universe, new phenomena can occur. For one thing, fermions and bosons can meet halfway – becoming anyons, which can be anywhere in between fermions and bosons. The quasiparticles in these special stair-step states are expected to be anyons.

In particular, the researchers are hoping these quasiparticles will be non-Abelian anyons, as their theory indicates they should be. That would be exciting because non-Abelian anyons can be used in the making of qubits.

Graphene qubits?

Qubits are to quantum computers what bits are to ordinary computers: both a basic unit of information and the basic piece of equipment that stores that information. Because of their quantum complexity, qubits are more powerful than ordinary bits and their power grows exponentially as more of them are added. A quantum computer of only a hundred qubits can tackle certain problems beyond the reach of even the best non-quantum supercomputers. Or, it could, if someone could find a way to build stable qubits.

The drive to make qubits is part of the reason why graphene is a hot research area in general, and why even-denominator FQHE states – with their special anyons – are sought after in particular.

“A state with some number of these anyons can be used to represent a qubit,” says Papić. “Our theory says they should be there and the experiments seem to bear that out – certainly the even-denominator FQHE states seem to be there, at least according to the Geneva experiments.”

That’s still a step away from experimental proof that those even-denominator stair-step states actually contain non-Abelian anyons. More work remains, but Papić is optimistic: “It might be easier to prove in graphene than it would be in semiconductors. Everything is happening right at the surface.”

It’s still early, but it looks as if bilayer graphene may be the magic material that allows this kind of qubit to be built. That would be a major mark on the unlikely line between pencil lead and quantum computers.

Here are links for further research,

January PRL paper mentioned above: http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.112.046602

Experimental paper from the Geneva graphene group, including Abanin: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl5003922

Experimental paper from the Columbia graphene group, including both Abanin and Papić: http://arxiv.org/abs/1403.2112. This paper is featured in the journal Science.

Related experiment on bilayer graphene by Amir Yacoby’s group at Harvard: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2014/05/28/science.1250270

The Nobel Prize press release on graphene, mentioned above: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2010/press.html

I recently posted a piece about some research into the ‘scotch-tape technique’ for isolating graphene (June 30, 2014 posting). Amusingly, Geim argued against coining the technique as the ‘scotch-tape’ technique, something I found out only recently.