A new photon-based form of matter has been discovered, which obviously means our first question is when do we get lightsabers?
We like to keep our eyes open for any interesting scientific breakthroughs or geek-oriented gadgets to share with you, which means every so often we encounter a story that potentially combines both of these themes. Today is one of those days, as a new form of matter has been created that brings us one step closer to the incredibly dangerous must have for any geek, the lightsaber. Nanowerk reports:
Working with colleagues at the Harvard-MIT Center for Ultracold Atoms, a group led by Harvard Professor of Physics Mikhail Lukin and MIT Professor of Physics Vladan Vuletic have managed to coax photons into binding together to form molecules – a state of matter that, until recently, had been purely theoretical. The work is described in a September 25 paper in Nature (“Attractive photons in a quantum nonlinear medium”).
The discovery, Lukin said, runs contrary to decades of accepted wisdom about the nature of light. Photons have long been described as massless particles which don’t interact with each other – shine two laser beams at each other, he said, and they simply pass through one another.
“Photonic molecules,” however, behave less like traditional lasers and more like something you might find in science fiction – the light saber.
“Most of the properties of light we know about originate from the fact that photons are massless, and that they do not interact with each other,” Lukin said. “What we have done is create a special type of medium in which photons interact with each other so strongly that they begin to act as though they have mass, and they bind together to form molecules. This type of photonic bound state has been discussed theoretically for quite a while, but until now it hadn’t been observed.
“It’s not an in-apt analogy to compare this to light sabers,” Lukin added. “When these photons interact with each other, they’re pushing against and deflect each other. The physics of what’s happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies.”
The experiment itself is detailed in the link above, but the applications of this new form of matter are still in question.
“We do this for fun, and because we’re pushing the frontiers of science,” Lukin said. “But it feeds into the bigger picture of what we’re doing because photons remain the best possible means to carry quantum information. The handicap, though, has been that photons don’t interact with each other.”
“What it will be useful for we don’t know yet, but it’s a new state of matter, so we are hopeful that new applications may emerge as we continue to investigate these photonic molecules’ properties,” he said.
And we will remain hopeful that these new applications will assist us in negotiating trade disputes, tackling evil despots, and redeeming wayward parents by way of lightsaber duels!