Light and matter are not just only separate but they have completely distinct properties, but now physicists have confined a particle of light - called a photon - with a molecule in a small, golden enclosure of mirrors. This quite a big deal, because it shows a completely new technique to manipulate the physical and chemical properties of matter, and possibly will change the way we process quantum information.
Image Credit: R Chikkaraddy/J Baumberg
This has been achieved before but those experiments were carried out at very low temperatures. Bow that physicists have achieved this at room temperature, the process is "chemically easily to access", which means researcher can now do cool stuff with it. One of the researchers, Ortwin Hess, said:
“We can now do a whole range of experiments on matter and light that would have been costly and difficult before. We could use light to change chemical structures, molecule by molecule. It could also be useful in quantum technologies. Light carries quantum information, and we could use this strong coupling to copy the information over to matter and back”
This not only has pretty impressive applications but it is so much incredible that it’s a pretty perfect demonstration of light's quantum effects.
Now, molecules are capable of discharging photons - little blinks of light - when they change their energy states. But typically once these photons are released, they never come back, and the two never ever mix again.
In order to achieve this a team of researcher from the University of Cambridge, created a tiny trap, so tiny that when a molecule releases a photon, the photon can't escape from it.
This effects the energy to fluctuate back and forth among the molecule and the photon over and over again, generating a mixed state that's part matter, part light.
This trap is sort of golden hall of mirrors. Known as a 'nanopore', it's a void just a billionth of a metre (or 1 nanometre) wide, which was made between a little sphere of gold and a gold film.
Now that researchers been able to attain this procedure at room temperature, it opens up a complete new way of discovering the structure of matter and procedures like photosynthesis, where plants are able to harness the energy of light to generate energy. I’am honestly eager to see what happens next.
The study has been published in the journal Nature.