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Title: Hunting for Majoranas
BACKGROUND The past decade has witnessed considerable progress toward the creation of new quantum technologies. Substantial advances in present leading qubit technologies, which are based on superconductors, semiconductors, trapped ions, or neutral atoms, will undoubtedly be made in the years ahead. Beyond these present technologies, there exist blueprints for topological qubits, which leverage fundamentally different physics for improved qubit performance. These qubits exploit the fact that quasiparticles of topological quantum states allow quantum information to be encoded and processed in a nonlocal manner, providing inherent protection against decoherence and potentially overcoming a major challenge of the present generation of qubits. Although still far from being experimentally realized, the potential benefits of this approach are evident. The inherent protection against decoherence implies better scalability, promising a considerable reduction in the number of qubits needed for error correction. Transcending possible technological applications, the underlying physics is rife with exciting concepts and challenges, including topological superconductors, non-abelian anyons such as Majorana zero modes (MZMs), and non-abelian quantum statistics.­­ ADVANCES In a wide-ranging and ongoing effort, numerous potential material platforms are being explored that may realize the required topological quantum states. Non-abelian anyons were first predicted as quasiparticles of topological states known as fractional quantum Hall states, which are formed when electrons move in a plane subject to a strong perpendicular magnetic field. The prediction that hybrid materials that combine topological insulators and conventional superconductors can support localized MZMs, the simplest type of non-abelian anyon, brought entirely new material platforms into view. These include, among others, semiconductor-superconductor hybrids, magnetic adatoms on superconducting substrates, and Fe-based superconductors. One-dimensional systems are playing a particularly prominent role, with blueprints for quantum information applications being most developed for hybrid semiconductor-superconductor systems. There have been numerous attempts to observe non-abelian anyons in the laboratory. Several experimental efforts observed signatures that are consistent with some of the theoretical predictions for MZMs. A few extensively studied platforms were subjected to intense scrutiny and in-depth analyses of alternative interpretations, revealing a more complex reality than anticipated, with multiple possible interpretations of the data. Because advances in our understanding of a physical system often rely on discrepancies between experiment and theory, this has already led to an improved understanding of Majorana signatures; however, our ability to detect and manipulate non-abelian anyons such as MZMs remains in its infancy. Future work can build on improved materials in some of the existing platforms but may also exploit new materials such as van der Waals heterostructures, including twisted layers, which promise many new options for engineering topological phases of matter. OUTLOOK Experimentally establishing the existence of non-abelian anyons constitutes an outstandingly worthwhile goal, not only from the point of view of fundamental physics but also because of their potential applications. Future progress will be accelerated if claims of Majorana discoveries are based on experimental tests that go substantially beyond indicators such as zero-bias peaks that, at best, suggest consistency with a Majorana interpretation. It will be equally important that these discoveries build on an excellent understanding of the underlying material systems. Most likely, further material improvements of existing platforms and the exploration of new material platforms will both be important avenues for progress toward obtaining solid evidence for MZMs. Once that has been achieved, we can hope to explore—and harness—the fascinating physics of non-abelian anyons such as the topologically protected ground state manifold and non-abelian statistics. Proposed topological platforms. (Left) Proposed state of electrons in a high magnetic field (even-denominator fractional quantum Hall states) are predicted to host Majorana quasiparticles. (Right) Hybrid structures of superconductors and other materials have also been proposed to host such quasiparticles and can be tailored to create topological quantum bits based on Majoranas.  more » « less
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National Science Foundation
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