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Research Tracing Exotic Quasiparticles in Nanowires Wins the 2012 AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize

An innovative approach in nanoscience to detect the presence of exotic quasiparticles, known as Majorana fermions, has won the 2012 AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize.

The association’s oldest prize, now supported by The Fodor Family Trust, annually recognizes the author or authors of an outstanding paper published in the Research Articles or Reports sections of the journal Science between June and the following May.

The research by Vincent Mourik, Leo Kouwenhoven, and colleagues was originally published online by Science at the Science Express Web site on 12 April 2012. The authors will receive the prize during a 15 February ceremony at the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.

For the first time ever, the physicists and chemists from Delft University of Technology and the Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands provided solid evidence that Majorana fermions—elusive particles that act as their own antiparticles—exist inside a nanowire.

In their winning paper, Vincent Mourik and colleagues reported the detection of fermions (orange ball) in tiny nanowires.

When a negatively charged electron meets a positron—its positively charged antiparticle—they annihilate each other in a flash of gamma rays. In contrast, Majorana fermions are neutral particles which are their own antiparticles and are thought to exist in solid state systems.

Mourik and colleagues developed a device consisting of a nanowire contacted by normal and superconducting electrodes. In a magnetic field, they observed a peak tunneling signal at zero energy that was robust to variation of the field and the gate voltage. The peak signal disappeared when the theoretically proposed necessary ingredients for Majorana formation were eliminated.

“This new discovery is a valuable contribution to the field of nanoscience,” said Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts. “In addition to having fundamental value for understanding our universe, it can also contribute to the creation of a stable quantum computing platform.”

The paper, “Signatures of Majorana Fermions in Hybrid Superconductor-Semiconductor Nanowire Devices,” is available free with registration at the Science website.

The prize was established in 1923 with funds donated by Newcomb Cleveland of New York City and was originally called the AAAS Thousand Dollar Prize. It is now known as the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize, and its value has been raised to $25,000. The winner also receives a prize plaque, complimentary registration, and reimbursement for travel and hotel expenses to attend the AAAS Annual Meeting.

Eligible Science papers include original research data, theory, or synthesis. They should represent a fundamental contribution to basic knowledge, or a technical achievement of far-reaching consequence. Winning nominations also should be a first-time publication of the author’s own work.

The 2011-2012 Newcomb Cleveland Prize selection committee included Alberts, Science Senior Editorial Board members Paul Alivisatos of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley; Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University; Ernst Fehr of the University of Zürich; Erin O’Shea of Harvard University; and Michael S. Turner of the University of Chicago; Brooks Hanson, Science deputy editor for physical sciences; Andrew Sugden, deputy editor for biological sciences; Valda Vinson, deputy editor for biology; Barbara Jasny, deputy editor for commentary; and AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, who also serves as executive publisher of Science.

Read more about the Newcomb Cleveland Prize, supported by The Fodor Family Trust.

Learn more about events at the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting, 14-18 February in Boston.