Advancements in science, over the years, have consistently challenged prevailing beliefs about the workings of the universe. None more so than a recent research, carried out by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland, that foresees a future where entire objects could be built out of pure light. So far, the scientists have theoretically shown that, under certain specific conditions, photons could be joined together to form a sort of two-atom molecule, held in place by its own peculiar force.
The new study is based on a previous research, by Harvard, MIT and Caltech scientists, that pointed to the possibility of binding a pair of light particles, flowing through a gas, such that one would be superimposed right on top of the other. Conducted back in 2013, the breakthrough was the first to deal with the science behind combining individual photons. Following in the footsteps of the earlier researchers, the current team has found how two photons could be made to travel side by side, at only a short distance from each other, much like the way two hydrogen atoms are positioned in a hydrogen molecule. Speaking about the project, Alexey Gorshkov, of NIST, said:
It’s not a molecule per se, but you can imagine it as having a similar kind of structure. We’re learning how to build complex states of light that, in turn, can be built into more complex objects. This is the first time anyone has shown how to bind two photons a finite distance apart.
While a lightsaber made of photons is not possible just yet, the scientists believe that the technology could eventually have a number of real-life applications. For instance, it could be used to calibrate light sensors more precisely, making it easier to build a “standard candle” that emanates a fixed number of light particles at any given time. More significantly, perhaps, the technology could help develop computer chips that use photons as information processors, delivering data at the speed of light. By joining and entwining photons together, computers could transmit information, like phone messages, in a incredibly energy-efficient manner, by eliminating the need to convert data-carrying light beams into electrons for processing. Gorshkov added:
It’s a cool new way to study photons. They’re massless and fly at the speed of light. Slowing them down and binding them may show us other things we didn’t know about them before… Lots of modern technologies are based on light, from communication technology to high-definition imaging. Many of them would be greatly improved if we could engineer interactions between photons.
The findings of the research were recently published on arXiv, and will also appear in the upcoming edition of the journal, Physical Review Letters.