In the Green Lantern comic books, those who possess a special ring are capable of conjuring up solid constructs out of green light. Now in a similar feat, scientists have figured out how to lock individual photons together so they become like a solid object, reports Phys.org.
"It's something that we have never seen before," said Andrew Houck, one of the researchers on the project. "This is a new behavior for light."
To achieve the breakthrough, researchers built a machine made of superconducting materials that contained 100 billion atoms. Those atoms were then engineered to act as a single "artificial atom," and the machine was placed close to a superconducting wire containing photons. According to the rules of quantum mechanics, the photons on the wire inherited some of the properties of the artificial atom, essentially linking them.
Since photons do not normally interact with one another, this technology was able to create new behavior in the photons.
"Here we set up a situation where light effectively behaves like a particle in the sense that two photons can interact very strongly," said Hakan Türeci, another member of the research team. "In one mode of operation, light sloshes back and forth like a liquid; in the other, it freezes."
Imagine that, light turned into a vibrant sloshing liquid, or solidified like a block of shimmering ice. The machine is currently very small, but researchers hope to eventually expand the blueprint to increase the number of interactions and simulate more complex systems. The ultimate goal is to build devices with hundreds of sites so that exotic phases of light such as superfluids and insulators can be observed.
Using the technology to build a Green Lantern-like ring is not currently on the docket; the device actually has a far more practical purpose. Namely, researchers hope their device will help address questions about the fundamental study of matter, and lead to new advancements in quantum computing.
"We are interested in exploring — and ultimately controlling and directing — the flow of energy at the atomic level," added Türeci. "The goal is to better understand current materials and processes and to evaluate materials that we cannot yet create."
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