Monday, July 27, 2015

Weyl Fermion Discovery--The Veblen Connection

When I saw the headline "After 85-year search, massless particle with promise for next-generation electronics discovered" among the Princeton University website's top stories, my response was a bit cynical. So many headlines tease us with important discoveries that could transform society, only to reveal deeper into the text that the discovery won't find practical uses for decades, if ever.

The text reporting this discovery, however, got more interesting as it went along. Turns out the massless particle was first proposed "by the mathematician and physicist Hermann Weyl in 1929." If you look at the Robert Nolan biography of Oswald Veblen, you find that Veblen "was largely responsible for selecting the other members of the original faculty (of the Institute for Advanced Study): James W. Alexander II, Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, and Hermann Weyl."

The Princeton University article goes on to say:
"Weyl fermions have been long sought by scientists because they have been regarded as possible building blocks of other subatomic particles, and are even more basic than the ubiquitous, negative-charge carrying electron (when electrons are moving inside a crystal). Their basic nature means that Weyl fermions could provide a much more stable and efficient transport of particles than electrons, which are the principle particle behind modern electronics. Unlike electrons, Weyl fermions are massless and possess a high degree of mobility; the particle's spin is both in the same direction as its motion — which is known as being right-handed — and in the opposite direction in which it moves, or left-handed."
Maybe someone's imagination, massless and possessing a high degree of mobility, will find useful applications for the Wehl fermion much sooner than later, in which case we will need to invent a dance in which we all spin both directions at the same time.

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