FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

What Is Half An Electron?

Dunno! Electrons are supposed to be indivisible. An electron, that crucial particle the joins up with protons and neutrons into atoms and makes electricity, magnetism, and thermal conductivity possible, is basically a space of infinitely inward...

Dunno! Electrons are supposed to be indivisible. An electron, that crucial particle the joins up with protons and neutrons into atoms and makes electricity, magnetism, and thermal conductivity possible, is basically a space of infinitely inward-increasing charge with infinitesimal mass. It’s not made up of “parts,” just negative charge. You should not be able to cut it in half. There are no half electrons in nature, or there shouldn’t be. A team of physicists has, however, split an electron in a supercomputer simulation, as detailed in the new issue of Science, and that’s weird enough.

Advertisement

The process was this: start with a crystal, cool it down to super-low temperatures until its electrons condense, and the crystal becomes a kind of “quantum fluid.” In this fluid weird things happen. Instead of bouncing all around the place and repelling each other like they should, electrons chill way, way out and start acting cooperatively. It’s a great thing that should not be. In this state, electric current can flow without energy forever, no voltage needed, like in a super-conductor.

The researchers liken the cooperation to that of air particles getting together in a sound wave. In effect, the actions of individual particles become moot. They do things “that you wouldn’t think possible,” says Duke physicist Matthew Hastings. One of those things, in the researcher’s simulations, is the possibility of splitting an electron in half. Which is what happened when they placed a particle mimicking the properties of an electron into a simulated quantum fluid. Where there was one particle, there were now two halves, with two half-charges.

So they took a bunch of measurements of the things and got bunch of data for this thing that should be possible, such that should this impossible thing ever occur in the real world, we’ll know what to look for. But it won’t happen, or shouldn’t. We now return you to your regularly scheduled laws of physics.

Connections:

Reach this writer at michaelb@motherboard.tv.

Image: A section of the simulation cell lattice, via Science.