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Single electron caught in action

Researchers find way to isolate behavior of one particle

1:14pm, October 23, 2013

In a feat akin to plucking a single water molecule from a vast ocean, physicists have for the first time isolated a single electron from an electronic sea. The study gives scientists a chance to learn more about the elementary particles and to employ them for quantum communication and computing devices.

The world is flush with electrons, yet they are very difficult to study individually. In metal wires and electrodes, individual electrons are virtually indistinguishable from each other because they sit together in a vast reservoir called the Fermi sea. One trick physicists have used is to strip a wire free of electrons and then inject it with particles one at a time, but those electrons don’t behave the same way they would if they were immersed in the sea. Like zoologists interested in learning the behavior of an animal, physicists want to study individual electrons in their natural environment.

In 1996, MIT physicist Leonid Levitov and colleagues proposed a way to

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