Quantum Frontiers

by Jorge Cham.

Ok, this is where things get weird. If quantum computers, femtometer motions or laser alligators weren’t enough, let’s throw in fractionalized electrons, topological surfaces and strings that go to the end of time.

To be honest, the idea that an electron can’t be split hadn’t even occurred to me before my conversation with Gil and Jason. And yet, this goes back to the very essence of the word Quantum: there’s a minimum size to everything. For electrical charge, that minimum is the electron.

Or so we thought! According to my friend, Wikipedia, the discovery of the Fractional Quantum Hall Effect in the 1980’s showed that you can form quasi-particles (or “bubbles” as Gil and Jason explain in the video) that carry 1/3 of an electron charge under certain 2D conditions. The 1998 Nobel Prize was awarded for this discovery, although, ironically, they had to split it in three (two…

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