(Nature) A study that was once trumpeted as evidence for the existence of an exotic quantum state that could revolutionize computing has turned out to be anything but. A 2018 Nature paper, based on work led by researchers at a Microsoft laboratory in the Netherlands, has now been officially retracted2 owing to what the authors call “insufficient scientific rigour” in the original data analysis.
How the problems with the original paper came about is still not fully understood. In May 2020, Delft University of Technology announced that their research-integrity committee was investigating “whether the research, data analysis and writing of the publication were executed in accordance with the applicable guidelines”. The committee appointed a panel of four external experts to review the experimental data and the paper. Their report, released on 8 March, found no evidence of research misconduct, but said the researchers had interpreted their data over-optimistically.
Lieven Vandersypen, the director of research at the university’s quantum-technology institute. He says the staff has had a broader discussion on the lessons to learn from this incident. “Science always means being critical, doubting your results and discussing them.”
The Nature retraction is a setback for Microsoft’s approach to quantum computing, as researchers continue to search for the exotic quantum states. Microsoft is still committed to the topological approach to quantum computing. It remains to be seen whether Majorana states exist, and whether they can eventually beat other approaches that are much further advanced, researchers say.
Scientists say it should still be possible to create and study the exotic states, known as Majorana fermions, that were the subject of the research. And researchers at Microsoft and elsewhere are still optimistic about the company’s plans to employ the phenomenon in a future quantum computer.
NOTE: A Majorana fermion also referred to as a Majorana particle, is a fermion that is its own antiparticle. They were hypothesised by Ettore Majorana in 1937.