Harvard and MIT jump the shark, create lightsaber matter

Credit: Lucasfilm

A man whose name sounds a heck of a lot like Luke and his partner, who's name could easily be misread as Vader, have figured how to make photons bond — creating light molecules. Seriously, Harvard professor Mikhail Lukin and MIT Professor Vladan Vuletic just might be the first people in our local galaxy to have passed their jedi trials.

Until now, light molecules did not exist. They're a new form of matter, which basically everyone who has ever lived thought was impossible. Even Professor Lukin himself is pretty sure that he's created something straight out of sci-fi:

"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."

To create their lightsaber molecules, or "photonic molecules" as they're being called, Lukin and Vuletic had to create an environment where weightless photos would begin to act like they have mass. Once this was accomplished, it was relatively simple to coax the affected photons to bond with one another, creating molecules.

The process by which this was achieved, Lukin explains, is much like shining a laser through a glass of water:

"The light enters the water, it hands off part of its energy to the medium, and inside it exists as light and matter coupled together, but when it exits, it's still light."

By ramping up the conditions of this sort of action, Lukin, Vuletic and their colleagues created the right conditions for photons to bond. First, the medium they sent the photons through wasn't water. It was a freezing cloud of rubidium atoms. Sending two individual photons through the cloud together, the researchers were surprised to note that they had bonded during their passage.

The discovery of a new form of matter shouldn't be taken lightly, and even Lukin himself doesn't know what applications it might have going forward. Lightsabers are clearly one hope, but there may be quantum computing applications as well. At the very least, photonic molecules have opened up a doorway to a whole new galaxy of studies, one which looks a whole lot more like one we remember existing long, long ago and far, far away.

Nature, via Phys.org

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