August 18, 2023
Back in the 1950s, theoretical physicists postulated that the kinds of particles we actually see in nature are just the tip of the iceberg. Many other types of particles with weird properties, which they termed paraparticles, were popping out of the math as theoretical possibilities. But as physicists discovered more about the fundamental particles seen in nature, they found no evidence for paraparticles.
In 2016 Cinthia Alderete, then a graduate student in theoretical physics, discovered a way to simulate paraparticles in which ions and light come together to put on a paraparticle play. To direct this dramatic reenactment, Alderete made the switch from theory to experiment and moved from Mexico to the United States, collaborating with the group of Norbert Linke, a member of the NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Robust Quantum Simulation and a former Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute. Together, they brought to life an obscure theoretical curiosity from the past.