The latest science news out of Harvard and MIT sounds like a joke, but it's not. A team of physicists were fooling around with photons when they managed to get the particles to clump together to form a molecule, one that's unlike any other matter. And it behaves, they say, just like a lightsabre.
That's right. Lasers were used to discover a new form of matter that's straight out of a Star Wars film. Credit for the experiment goes to Harvard physics professor Mikhail Lukin and MIT physics professor Vladan Vuletic, who blasted photons through a cloud of rubidium atoms. When they sent more than one photon at once, they noticed that the particles clung to each other to form a molecule.
"It's not an in-apt analogy to compare this to lightsabre," said Lukin (Skywalker?) in a press release. "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."
In fact, what the scientists were witnessing is known as the Rydberg blockade. This rule states that atoms neighbouring 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.
Don't let your imagination get too carried away though. The physicists aren't planning to build futuristic weapons with the new form of matter. Rather they hope it will help them make progress in building efficient quantum computers. Which frankly are futuristic enough in their own right. [Nature via PhysOrg]