Scientists have created a state of matter that so far has been found in fictional galaxies far, far away.
The joint team of physicists from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said they’d been exploring the properties of photons when they were able to coax them into binding together into molecules.
Previously, scientists had believed photons were massless particles that would not interact with one another.
But “photonic molecules” aren’t quite like laser beams, which simply pass through one another if fired at each other; they’re more like another science fiction weapon.
“It’s not an inapt analogy to compare this to light sabers,” said Mikhail Lukin, Harvard professor of physics. “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.”
This photonic bound state has been discussed theoretically, Lukin said, but had never been previously observed.
Lukin and his colleagues, including MIT physics professor Vladan Vuletic, pumped rubidium atoms into a vacuum chamber and cooled those atoms to nearly absolute zero using lasers.
Then the scientists used weak laser pulses to fire single photons into the rubidium cloud, transferring some of the photons’ energy with atoms along its path.
They had expected two photons fired at the cloud to pass through individually, but scientists said they emerged on the other side as a single molecule.
The scientists said they plan to use their discovery to aid quantum computing, instead of building sci-fi weapons.
The system could also be used for classical computing to help overcome the power-dissipation challenge now faced by chip makers.
[A man wields a “LaserSabre.” Screenshot via YouTube.]