Princeton University Professor of Physics M. Zahid Hasan is one of three physicists whose efforts to observe Weyl fermions, an elusive massless particle theorized 85 years ago, have been named among the Top Ten Breakthroughs of 2015 by Physics World magazine. Hasan shares the honor with Marin Soljacic, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and with Zhong Fang and Hongming Weng of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, whose research teams independently found evidence of the fermion.
Proposed by the mathematician and physicist Hermann Weyl in 1929, Weyl fermions have long been regarded as possible building blocks of other subatomic particles. If applied to next-generation electronics, the fermions could allow for a nearly free and efficient flow of electricity and thus greater power.
Hasan led an international team that reported their discovery in the journal Science July 15, 2015. The researchers discovered the Weyl fermion in a synthetic metallic crystal called tantalum arsenide (TaAs) that the Princeton researchers designed in collaboration with scientists at the Collaborative Innovation Center of Quantum Matter in Beijing and National Taiwan University. The work was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.
The team from MIT, together with researchers from Zhejiang University in China, published in the same issue of Science evidence of Weyl particles in the form of bosons found in a very different material known as photonic crystals. Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences published similar results July 31, 2015 in the journal Physical Review X.
The Princeton team included numerous researchers from Princeton's Department of Physics, including graduate students Ilya Belopolski, Nasser Alidoust and Daniel Sanchez; Guang Bian, a postdoctoral research associate; associate research scholar Hao Zheng; and Madhab Neupane, a Princeton postdoctoral research associate now at the Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Class of 2015 undergraduate Pavel Shibayev.
Other co-authors were Chenglong Zhang, Zhujun Yuan and Shuang Jia from Peking University; Raman Sankar and Fangcheng Chou from National Taiwan University; Guoqing Chang, Chi-Cheng Lee, Shin-Ming Huang, BaoKai Wang and Hsin Lin from the National University of Singapore; Jie Ma from Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and Arun Bansil from Northeastern University. Wang is also affiliated with Northeastern University, and Jia is affiliated with the Collaborative Innovation Center of Quantum Matter in Beijing.
Established in 2009, the Top Ten is chosen by Physics World editors and reporters and the winning research must have fundamental importance, a strong connection between theory and experiment, provide a significant advance in knowledge, and be of general interest to all physicists.