A future with lightsabers just got a little more promising, according to a scientific breakthrough by MIT and Harvard scientists. For the first time, scientists have managed to create matter out of light, something that has been theoretically possible but never before accomplished. Furthermore, this discovery flips long-accepted understanding about light and photons on its head, and results in lasers that interact with each other in a manner similar to lightsabers.
The work was done by teams lead by MIT’s Vladan Vuletic and Harvard’s Mikhail Lukin, both of whom are physics professors. The matter is composed of photons that have bonded together to form molecules, forming mass. This was achieved by using a vacuum chamber filled with rubidium atoms, which was then laser-cooled to near absolute zero. Single photons were fired into the atoms cloud using laser pulses. The photon will eventually exit the cloud, having passed energy off to atoms and slowed “dramatically”.
The breakthrough came when two photons were fired through this cloud, both of which emerged bound together as a molecule. This is said to be the result of a Rybdberg blockade, and while the science is still at the proof-of-concept stage, the scientists are already planning ahead for practical applications. Talk of quantum information and quantum computing has been tossed around, as well as uses in modern computing technology. There is even mention of one day creating 3D crystals out of light.
Said Lukin: “Most of the properties of light we know about originate from the fact that photons are massless, and that they do not interact with each other. 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 in-apt analogy to compare this to light sabers.”