Meet Two New Quantum Particles: Spinons and Holons

The latest development in particle physics reveals the "indivisible" electron might not be so indivisible in all situations. Scientists at Cambridge University have discovered that electrons in quantum-scale wires can break into two smaller particles, called spinons and holons.

The breaking-apart effect only happens when a lot of electrons are competing for not a lot of space. Since the electrons repel each other, if they are put into a very narrow wire, they find it harder and harder to move past each other. The electrons apparently respond by breaking their magnetism and charge into two separated particles, the spinons and holons.

The experiment that this team used to test their breaking-up-electron hypothesis is also pretty interesting. The team had to get electrons into a very thin wire, take the whole thing down to near-absolute-zero temperatures, and then observe how electrons bounced between that wire and a close-by metal.

When the metal and the wire are near each other, the electrons do their "quantum tunneling" thing, and the scientists take measurements under a variety of magnetic fields to see what is happening when the electrons jump. These measurements eventually indicated that the jumping electrons had to be falling apart into two new particles.

The discovery, detailed in Science magazine, has some pretty strange implications for particle physics, but it also might prove important in quantum computing. Quantum wires are used to connect components in a quantum computer, and these computers might have to account for the effect of these distressed electrons breaking into smaller particles. If nothing else, high school science teachers might have to put a new spin on the "indivisible electron" story.

Discovery About Behavior Of Building Block Of Nature Could Lead To Computer Revolution [via ScienceDaily]
Probing Spin-Charge Separation in a Tomonaga-Luttinger Liquid [Science Magazine]

(Image: a series of spinon-holon chains, from a Nature Physics cover in 2007)