Take two flashlights into a dark room and shine them so that their light beams cross. Notice anything peculiar? The rather anticlimactic answer is, probably not. That’s because the individual photons that make up light do not interact. Instead, they simply pass each other by, like indifferent spirits in the night.
The light sabers — beams of light that can pull and push on each other, making for dazzling, epic confrontations. Or, in a more likely scenario, two beams of light could meet and merge into one single, luminous stream.
It may seem like such optical behavior would require bending the rules of physics.
Researchers have demonstrated that photons can indeed be made to interact — an accomplishment that could open a path toward using photons in quantum computing, if not in light sabers. Researchers reports that it has observed groups of three photons interacting and, in effect, sticking together to form a completely new kind of photonic matter.
In controlled experiments, the researchers found that when they shone a very weak laser beam through a dense cloud of ultracold rubidium atoms, rather than exiting the cloud as single, randomly spaced photons, the photons bound together in pairs or triplets, suggesting some kind of interaction — in this case, attraction — taking place among them.
The researchers found that the bound photons actually acquired a fraction of an electron’s mass. These newly weighed-down light particles were also relatively sluggish, traveling about 100,000 times slower than normal noninteracting photons.
The results demonstrate that photons can indeed attract, or entangle each other. If they can be made to interact in other ways, photons may be harnessed to perform extremely fast, incredibly complex quantum computations.
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