Harvard and MIT Bind Photons Like Light Sabers


Star Wars 1Researchers at MIT and Harvard say they have found a way to make photons bind together to form molecules – with the end result akin to a Star Wars’ light saber.

"It's not an in-apt analogy to compare this to light sabers," Harvard physics Prof. Mikhail Lukin said in a report. "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."

Lukin and his colleagues at the Harvard-MIT Center for Ultracold Atoms described their work in the professional journal Nature. Until now, getting light to bind together like molecules has been theoretical, since photons have historically been considered “massless,” and so not able to interact with each other.

The wizards of Cambridge seem to have changed that.

“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,” Lukin said.

Before you get your Jedi on, however, the researchers see this “new matter” as a tool for something quantum computing – using light instead of electricity to move data – and possibly for creating complex three-dimensional structures from light.

"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," Lukin said.

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