Technology

Scientists Create Matter From Light. Next Up, Lightsabers?

D-briefBy Bill AndrewsSep 27, 2013 6:20 PM

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Brace yourselves: Scientists have created matter made from light

. The new form of matter was just a simple molecule, made up of two photons (the particles of light), but — holy crap, they made a molecule out of photons! This is very cool, but according

to

the

Internet

, it also means scientists created lightsabers the other day. Alas, we’re not quite there yet. But for once, it’s not the media’s fault — the Star Wars talk started with Harvard physicist Mikhail Lukin, who said in a press release

, “It's not an in-apt analogy to compare this to light sabers.”

Tripping the Light

What Lukin meant, though, was just that his team of Harvard and MIT physicists had created a form of light that can interact with itself. Normally, photons are massless particles that don’t interact with one another — as anyone who’s tried to recreate lightsaber duels with flashlights (or laser pointers), only to have them pass harmlessly through each other, knows all too well.

To create the long-sought light matter, the team shot two photons into a cloud of rubidium atoms just a few degrees above absolute zero. The two particles came out of the cloud bound together like a regular molecule. As Gizmodo puts it

:

In fact, what the scientists were witnessing is known as the Rydberg blockade. This rule states that atoms neighboring an atom that's been excited—say, by a passing photon—cannot be excited to the same degree as the initial atom. When multiple photons pass through a cloud of atoms, this creates a push-pull force between them, which is what binds the resultant molecule.

While lightsabers may be a long time off, this kind of light manipulation should make quantum computers more efficient and could even lead to the creation of all-light 3-D structures. (So, fans of Star Trek and its holodeck can join in the fun, too.) And Lukin uses the force for all the right reasons, according to the press release: “We do this for fun, and because we’re pushing the frontiers of science.” Top image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr/ Middle image by FastLizard4 via Flickr

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