This Is The World’s First Image of Light as Both a Particle And a Wave


For the first time, scientists have captured both the particle and wave natures of light in a single electron microscope picture.

Fabrizio Carbone/EPFL

Until recently, scientists have been able to capture a picture of light as either a particle or a wave, but never both. However, a team from Switzerland's École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne overcame the difficulties encountered in prior tests by photographing light in this very odd form using electrons.

The key to their success is the unique design of their experiment. They begin by firing a laser source at a thin piece of nanowire suspended on a piece of graphene film. The nanowire vibrates as a result, and light particles, or photons, are transmitted along with it in one of two ways. When opposing light particles hit and overlap on the wire, they generate a wave. This condition is referred to as a 'standing wave,' and it emits light that radiates outward from the nanowire.

Thus far, so good, however, this will not provide a picture of the two light conditions. The scientists discovered that by injecting a stream of electrons into the vicinity of the nanowire, they could create an interaction between the electrons and the confined light on the nanowire.

According to the press release, this contact led the electrons to accelerate or decelerate, and the researchers utilized an ultrafast electron microscope to record this precise instant in order to view the standing wave, "which acts as a fingerprint of light's wave-nature." The team describes its results in Nature Communications, describing how the collision of protons and electrons, together with the consequent speed shift experienced by the electrons, appears as an energy exchange visible via a microscope.

As a consequence, the standing wave is shown at the top, while the photons are depicted at the bottom.

“This experiment demonstrates that, for the first time ever, we can film quantum mechanics – and its paradoxical nature – directly,” one of the team, physicist Fabrizio Carbone, said in a press release. “Being able to image and control quantum phenomena at the nanometer scale like this opens up a new route towards quantum computing.”

The Swiss team has created an endearing short film to illustrate their work. Consider what would happen if every time light manifested in particle form, it created those strange tiny sounds. What a complete nightmare.

Reference(s): Peer-Reviewed Research Article, Phy.org



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