Fundamental Particle ‘Splits’ into Quasiparticles
In a feat of technical mastery, condensed-matter physicists have managed to detect the elusive third constituent of an electron — its ‘orbiton’. The achievement could help to resolve a long-standing mystery about the origin of high-temperature superconductivity, and aid in the construction of quantum computers.
Isolated electrons cannot be split into smaller components, earning them the designation of a fundamental particle. But in the 1980s, physicists predicted that electrons in a one-dimensional chain of atoms could be split into three quasiparticles: a ‘holon’ carrying the electron’s charge, a ‘spinon’ carrying its spin (an intrinsic quantum property related to magnetism) and an ‘orbiton’ carrying its orbital location.