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You may know that there are two classes of fundamental particles — fermions and bosons — underlying what we normally think of as matter. Neutrons, protons, and electrons are all fermions; photons are an example of bosons. Fermions repel each other, and bosons don't. These quantum statistics are well-known. But physicists have now observed particles that don’t fall under either category.
Enter the anyon: a type of quasiparticle found in two dimensional systems which is neither a fermion or a boson that may be the key to the next stage of quantum technologies.
Although anyons have been theorized for many years now, evidence of such particles has only recently been observed experimentally. Anyons are of particular interest in the field of quantum computing as they are the building blocks of the topological quantum computer, which physicists believe would make a more stable version of the technology. But to bring such a machine out of the realm of theory and into reality, we first need to be able to create and control anyons.
In their experiment published in April in the journal Science, physicists developed a tiny particle collider to detect anyons. The device was made of a microscopic semiconductor. Inside this material system, electrons were confined in two dimensions. And in the presence of a large magnetic field, anyons arose. But here’s where things got a little tricky: because of the quantum mechanical nature of such a system, researchers needed to use sophisticated techniques, such as quantum tunneling, to guide, collide and detect the anyons.
They were able to study the quantum statistics of the system and see evidence of anyons in their experiment. They saw that the particles in their device did not display fermion-like or boson-like statistics, but instead something in between. Their results provide experimental evidence for the anyon-statistics previously predicted theoretically.
This is the first step in a long journey to creating a physical topological quantum computer. Although likely to take decades, such a technology could revolutionize our society. But first, we need to learn a lot more about anyons to uncover their potential in quantum technology and beyond.