This New Form of Light Is a Physical Molecule, Here’s How We Made It

This New Form of Light Is a Physical Molecule, Here’s How We Made It


Photons are oddballs. When they’re not busy being waves, they’re
massless particles that can travel at light speed because, well, that’s what they are,
little packets of light. For decades it was also thought photons didn’t
interact with each other, but recently researchers have discovered how to bind photons together
as though they were molecules. With flashlights, unlike ghostbusting equipment,
you can cross the streams all you want. They don’t bounce off each other or cause
every molecule in your body to explode because photons don’t much care for one another. Unless, that is, they’re fired through a
ultracold cloud of rubidium atoms. When scientists from Harvard and MIT fired
a weak laser through a rubidium cloud, they observed photons coming out the other side
in pairs and triples. Not only that, but they could tell from how
much the photons were oscillating that they weren’t just bunched up together coming
out of the cloud — they were bonded, like molecules. Photonic molecules! They could even tell how strong the bond was
based on their oscillation frequencies! Before we get too ahead of ourselves, I should
tell you that not all of this is new news. Back in 2013, scientists fired a blue laser
at ultracold rubidium gas and observed the photons forming pairs when they came out the
other side. What’s new THIS time are that the photons
formed the trios. Scientists weren’t sure if it was even possible
to form groups of three interacting photons. Turns out it’s not only possible, but three
photons interact even more strongly than pairs of photons. To explain how this happens, researchers believe
that as the photons travel through the rubidium cloud, they’re briefly captured by the atoms
to form an atom-photon hybrid called a Rydberg polariton. The photon travels from atom to atom doing
this, and if two polaritons come across one another, the photons can mingle thanks to
their atomic partner. They become entangled, and when they reach
the edge of the gas cloud the atoms stay behind while the photons stick together. It’s like two shy people being introduced
to each other by their more outgoing friends at a party. They’d never approach each other on their
own, but once they meet they really hit it off. Apparently, they’re even open to adding
a third person to the mix. Ok, I’m going to abandon this metaphor before
I get in trouble. These new photonic molecules have interesting
properties, like taking on a tiny amount of mass, which is crazy when you remember photons
by themselves are massless. They also travel about 100,000 times slower
than normal, so you know, around a sluggish 10,000 kilometers per hour. What we can DO with these photon molecules
remains to be seen. They could make it possible for computer logic
gates to use light, instead of inefficiently converting light to electrical impulses and
back again like some do now. Or they could be used in quantum computing
to carry information, thanks to their entangled state. OR if adding more photons to the mix makes
them interact more strongly, maybe it’s possible to make entire crystals out of light! Time and more research will tell, so more
research is needed. Be the light of our life, take a sec, and
subscribe. Speaking of quantum craziness, did you hear
scientists teleported stuff to SPACE? A handsome devil talks about it here. While photons in the visible spectrum usually
won’t interact, very high energy photons have a higher probability of bouncing off
one another, a process called gamma-gamma scattering. Thanks for absorbing our photons into your
eyeballs.

100 Replies to “This New Form of Light Is a Physical Molecule, Here’s How We Made It”

  1. So the theory stating that if light could interact with itself, it would explain dark matter has extra heft then!

  2. If the strength of the bond goes up with the number of photons bonded together, then you can possibly create large groups that can physically interact with matter: Sci-fi force fields! Photon torpedoes, anyone? Does the fact that these clumps are so slow and have mass (where the hell did THAT come from?!?!?!) mean that STAR TREK photon torpedoes or STAR WARS blasters could exist? This is a kick in the head as far as technology is concerned. What next??

  3. Does their speed stay constant like massless particles do, or does their speed change (decrease probably)?

    I want to know!

  4. So if they have made light crystals why arn't we useing those for technology instead of quartz?
    (Sorry for bad spelling )

  5. (((for info on the last part, they didn't teleport anything to space they just sent out the structural information of that material so that they can replicate it in space)))

  6. Is the reason that the photons pairs/triples have mass the same reason that a proton has a greater mass that the 3 quarks that make it up?

  7. Yes!!! How the Universe may re-collapse in a photon bath having an ultra low temperature? Suggesting a special geometrical organization…

  8. Seldom have I ever said WOW after watching a video like this….the implications are HUGE. I hope I live long enough to see some peaceful applications.

  9. That doesn't sound possible. Photons, even bound, should still be massless. 3×0 is still 0. Not to mention if the rubidium is emitting photon pairs, why haven't we seen photon pairs being emitted elsewhere?

    I feel like a child being told Santa isn't real, right now. 🙁

  10. So when the photons bonded it gained mass. New theory, bonds between subatomic particles create mass which may have a direct correlation with gravity.

  11. man science and tech is getting strange lol. I can understand teleporting something. But clumps of light is just crazy lol.

  12. Wonder if something like this would work with other highly non- interactive particles like neutrinos? Dark matter detector maybe?

  13. Does anyone know what force is holding them together? Photons have no electric charge, colour charge, the weak nuclear force is probably too weak and gravity just wouldn't be able to do it, it constantly turning into matter-antimatter pairs which get attracted to each other would be difficult because there is a low chance of it turning into a matter-antimatter pair often enough to stick unless slowing it down somehow changes it.

  14. At 0:48 you say that "they[photons] weren't just bunched up together coming out of the cloud, they were bonded".

    This is incorrect.

    Only in the cloud do the photons "behave" similarly to a molecule.
    Also the speed and mass effects are again, only while the photons are in the cloud.
    This is similar to how light can appear to change its speed in various mediums, such as air, or glass.

    Unfortunately the editor of the Smithsonian article got over zealous in their interpretation of the sugary press release.

    Kenneth Studstill
    is spot on.

  15. If this is true, then a photon on its own must have some form of mass, otherwise, it cannot have any energy, which contradicts Einstein with his own theory. If mass must have energy, then light energy must have mass!

  16. I want hard light armor. I know. Probably not in my lifetime but still. Imagine it. Shapable

  17. Could it be used to create physical holograms? A hologram that can physically interact with the real world while being controlled elsewhere… but I'm also crazy so ya know, my idea may also be flawed!!!

  18. slow moving light ? light crystals? did i just hear someone say lightsabers , blasters ,and zpm batteries

  19. Imagine if one day holograms could physically grab objects, or if we could have holographic smartphones that we could physically interact with. We would have to find a way to make light photons work their way to solidify when certain contact is made with them.

  20. How the hell would be a light-crystal? Cold or Hot?Heavy or Light? Hard or Breakable? Would it emit light? I want to see this before I die.

  21. I saw a video about new science achievement in which photons managed to link to eachother after bouncing into a rubidium cloud, creating little aggrupations which may act like crystals

    Obviously are pure photon structures and as a photon I’d like to imagine is much smaller than an atom, a three billion photon crystal may seem a lot smaller than a three billion gold ore.

    But the question here is, even if a human managed to hold an apple sized photon crystal in his hand; would it shine? Theorically, would a photon still emit photons? Would it make it vanish slowly?

    Extra question, would a photon just a nanometers big, interact the exact same way than a single photon at the double slit test?

  22. This is groundbreaking. Imagine breaking down and converting atoms to photons. We would then be able to travel light years away, at astronomical speeds. Light speed

  23. So if light is bonding to atoms as it goes through the cloud then it is moving the mass.
    Sounds like a space engine concept in the making.

  24. the fact they travel slower than c in a vacuum is the bit that interest me! wow…. we have something there! Now, I wonder how close we can get to creating mass with photons… and whether we can create anti-matter…. because if we can we might just have ourselves a wicked propulsion system and power gen.

    I know a lot of people laugh at ufo sightings… think they're not real / natural. But there are some very credible witnesses…. and normally they talk about light….. well, this might be why… because you can take light and change its nature so that it can work for you like matter.

  25. if you shot those photon clusters at an image would it bounced back and reflect differently in our eye than a normal reflection of an image would look?

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