A shadow has fallen over the race to detect a new type of quantum particle, the Majorana fermion, that could power quantum computers. As someone who works in this area, I’ve become concerned that, after a series of false starts, a significant fraction of the Majorana field is fooling itself. Several key experiments claiming to have detected Majorana particles, initially considered as breakthroughs, have not been confirmed. One recent case ended in a high-profile retraction from Nature (see https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00612-z" data-track-category="body text link">Nature 591, 354–355; 2021), which I initiated with my colleague Vincent Mourik, a physicist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. We raised concerns after obtaining additional data from the original experiments that were not included with the published paper.
Much is at stake. Majorana particles are in theory their own antiparticles, and were predicted in 1937 by Italian physicist Ettore Majorana. Computer giant Microsoft hopes to use Majorana particles to build a reliable quantum computer: the particles should make for exceptionally stable quantum bits. The scientific excitement around them is on a par with gravitational waves and the Higgs boson.
Experimentally, researchers are at loggerheads over whether Majoranas have been detected at all, let alone whether they’re an asset for quantum computing. As scepticism of the claims creeps beyond the cognoscenti, the field is at risk of getting a bad reputation, despite its untapped promise.
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