Electron No Longer a Fundamental Particle ?

Spin-Charge Separation Graph

Spin-Charge Separation Graph
Credit: Nature, Schlappa et al

Amazing news: Researchers in Switzerland have separated an Electron into two smaller quasi-particles – a “Spinon” and an “Orbiton;” meaning they have physically separated the spin and the orbit properties of an Electron.

Until now, standard physics generally accepted that an Electron was a fundamental particle – that it was not made of smaller components.

However, as early as 1980 theorists had predicted an electron could be made of three smaller pieces: A “Spinon” (providing spin), an “Orbiton” (providing the orbit) and a “Holon” (carrying the charge).

In 1996, physicists seemed to split an electron into a holon and spinon.

In 1996, American physicists C. L. Kane and Matthew Fisher made a theoretical prediction that if you confine electrons to individual atomic chains, the Wiedemann-Franz law could be strongly violated. In this one-dimensional world, the electrons split into two distinct components or excitations, one carrying spin but not charge (the spinon), the other carrying charge but not spin (the holon).

This year Swiss and German researchers1 led by experimenter Thorsten Schmitt fired a tightly focused X-ray beam at a copper-oxide compound called “strontium cuprate,” special because particles in it can only move in one-dimension, one degree of freedom – forward or backwards.

They observed an electron split into two of the three predicted parts – a Spinon and an Orbitron.

What solidified their observation is finding distinct properties for the two parts. “These quasiparticles can move with different speeds and even in different directions in the material,” said Jeroen van den Brink, a condensed-matter physicist at the Institute for Theoretical Solid State Physics in Dresden, Germany.

For more here is a news report in Nature Journal “Not-quite-so elementary, my dear electron

The original paper: Spin–orbital separation in the quasi-one-dimensional Mott insulator [strontium cuprate]

1. Electron Splitting Research Team: J. Schlappa, K. Wohlfeld, K. J. Zhou, M. Mourigal, M. W. Haverkort, V. N. Strocov, L. Hozoi, C. Monney, S. Nishimoto, S. Singh, A. Revcolevschi, J.-S. Caux, L. Patthey, H. M. Rønnow, J. van den Brink & T. Schmitt

Do I hear a Nobel Prize ringing ? :-)

Update April 4, 2016: Experimentalists have just separated an Electron into smaller particles, more easily and apparently sufficiently so that the Electron subcomponents can be used in human scale devices ! They refer to the result as a new state of matter called “quantum spin liquid.” More later.

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Related articles:

Why Don’t Three Quarks Add Up to One Proton? (and its not even close)

Haggar Physicists Develop ‘Quantum Slacks’

And a book (this website will get a few dimes if you buy it here.)
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