Obi-Wan Might Appreciate This Newly Discovered Material

Scientists have succeeded in creating conditions that cause photons, which don't have mass, to behave like molecules, which do. The interactions between them resemble those that might happen with two lightsabers, and could help advance quantum computing.

What's the Latest Development?


Scientists at the intriguingly-named Harvard-MIT Center for Ultracold Atoms have succeeded in creating a new type of material -- "photonic molecules" -- that up until now existed only in theory. They did this by shooting photons into a cloud of atoms cooled to just a few degrees above absolute zero. As each single photon traveled through, it created energy that was passed on from atom to atom and exited with the photon. However, when two photons entered, an energy-restricting phenomenon caused them to push and pull each other through the cloud, an interaction that resulted in them exiting the cloud together as a single "molecule."

What's the Big Idea?

Lacking mass, photons don't normally interact with each other. However, the conditions created by the team caused them "to act as though they have mass, and they bind together to form molecules," says team leader and Harvard physics professor Mikhail Lukin. Also, the fact that they deflect each other invites a comparison to "Star Wars"-style lightsabers in combat, he says. The experiment -- details of which are published in the latest issue of Nature -- represent an important step towards building quantum computers, since "photons remain the best possible means to carry quantum information."

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Read it at ScienceDaily

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

Videos
  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Trauma in childhood leads to empathy in adulthood

It's not just a case of "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Mind & Brain

  • A new study suggests children who endure trauma grow up to be adults with more empathy than others.
  • The effect is not universal, however. Only one kind of empathy was greatly effected.
  • The study may lead to further investigations into how people cope with trauma and lead to new ways to help victims bounce back.
Keep reading Show less
Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less