Physicists from Harvard and MIT say they've created a new form of matter by binding together photons -- and you'll never guess what they're comparing it to.
"It's not an in-apt analogy to compare this to light sabers," Dr. Mikhail Lukin, a professor of physics at Harvard and one of the scientists behind the new discovery, said in a written statement. "When these photons interact with each other, they're pushing against and deflect each other. The physics of what's happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies."
Take that Darth Vader. How is it possible to make photons substantial? After all, these light particles have long been considered massless particles of light that don't interact.
"What we have done is create a special type of medium in which photons interact with each other so strongly that they begin to act as though they have mass, and they bind together to form molecules," Lukin said in the statement. "This type of photonic bound state has been discussed theoretically for quite a while, but until now it hadn't been observed."
The researchers made the new matter by pumping a cloud of atoms from the highly reactive metal rubidium into a vacuum chamber, cooling the atoms, and then using a weak laser to fire two photons into the atom cloud.
When the photons emerged from the other side of the cloud, they clumped together into a single molecule. This happened because of the so-called Rydberg blockade -- an effect that prevents photons from exciting nearby atoms at the same time. The photons were forced to move through the cloud together with a push and pull motion. The research was published online in a September 25 Nature paper.
While the discovery has sci-fi geeks all abuzz, scientists are more focused on the matter's practical applications. The new matter may help scientists build quantum computers and complex crystals made of light.
No word yet about scientists making real lightsabers next, but we're crossing our fingers.
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