You might soon own your very own light saber, and not have to journey to a galaxy far, far away to get it.
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 managed to coax photons into binding together to form molecules–a state of matter that, until recently, had been purely theoretical, Harvard University reported recently. The work is described in September 25th’s Nature.
The discovery, Lukin said, runs contrary to decades of accepted wisdom about the nature of light. Photons have long been described as massless particles that don't interact with each other. Shine two laser beams at each other, he explained, and they simply pass through one another.
"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 inapt 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."
"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."
More details on this can be found at: news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/09/seeing-light-in-a-new-way/