Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Boston, MA, United States (4E) – Scientists from the United States have, for the first time in human history, created a hitherto hypothetical material called “Solid Light,” which is light in a solidified state.
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, in conjunction with scientists from the University of Maryland, Princeton University and the University of Chicago, found that when they excited a cloud of rubidium atoms through a sequence of laser pulses they could induce strong interactions between propagating photons.
They tuned the strength of the interaction to make the photons form dimer- and trimer-bound states.
The researchers further found that the bound photons acquired a fraction of an electron’s mass. The newly weighed-down photons traveled about 100,000 times slower than normal, noninteracting photons.
Solid light can be used to perform highly complex, incredibly fast quantum computations, said the research team in a study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Science.
During the test, scientists watched groups of three photons interacting and effectively producing a new form of light. A photon is a particle representing a quantum of light or other electromagnetic radiation. They normally travel solo through beams of light, but never interacting with each other.
In 2013, however, scientists made them clump together in pairs, creating a new state of matter. This discovery shows that interactions are possible on a greater scale.
“It was an open question,” said Vladan Vuletic from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who led the team with Mikhail Lukin from Harvard University. “Can you add more photons to a molecule to make bigger and bigger things?”
To answer this question, the team cooled a cloud of rubidium atoms to an ultralow temperature. This slowed the atoms down till they were almost still. A very faint laser beam sent just a few photons through the freezing cloud at once.
The photons came out the other side as pairs and triplets, rather than just as single photons. This whole process took about a millionth of a second.
Researchers think the particles might flit from one nearby atom to another as they pass through the rubidium cloud. These passing photons could form “polaritons,” which are part photon, part atom hybrids.
If more than one photon passes by the same atom at the same time, they might form linked polaritons. As they leave the atom, they might stay together as a pair, or even a triplet.
“What’s neat about this is, when photons go through the medium, anything that happens in the medium, they ‘remember’ when they get out,” said co-author Sergio Cantu from MIT.
This research is the latest step towards the development of a workable quantum compute that can solve problems beyond the realm of traditional computers.
Vuletic said light is already used to transmit data very quickly over long distances via fiber optic cables. Being able to manipulate these photons could enable the distribution of data in much more powerful ways.
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