We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Can I Pour You a Pint of Light?

By Kathy A Svitil
Nov 1, 2002 6:00 AMNov 12, 2019 6:31 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Nearly a century ago, Albert Einstein suggested that light could be thought of as a gas, its photons jostling like water molecules in steam. Humberto Michinel, a physicist at the University of Vigo in Orense, Spain, has taken the idea a step further, working out a way to condense photons into drops of liquid light. He and his colleagues modeled what happens when a laser beam passes through a peculiar material called a cubic-quintic nonlinear medium. Such materials slow down any passing light—the stronger the beam, the greater the slowing—and focus it into a thin column.

Simulations (above) show that a gigawatt laser could condense the photons in the beam into droplets, each about 1/500 of an inch across. Drops of liquid light—an entirely new form of matter—would have many of the properties of liquid water, including surface tension. "They could also form into eddies—whirlpools of light," Michinel says. Sprinkles of light might someday transport data in an optical computer: "You could make two liquid droplets collide, like billiard balls, to make a logic gate that switches a bit from a 0 to a 1," Michinel says. But first he needs to create actual liquid light in the lab, which could take a year or two.

Photographs courtesy of Humberto Michinel (6).

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.