Building With Light: The Future of Light Science

The idea of being able to create physical matter by using light might conjure up favorite science fiction stories involving light sabers and other fantastical contraptions but it’s not as far, far, away as you might think. Theoretical physicists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have taken a big step towards building objects out of photons, the particles that make up light.

These attempts to “build” with light are not new; in fact, in 2013 collaborators at MIT and Harvard discovered that they could bind two photons together, one on top of the other as they travel. This breakthrough was the very first indication that building with light was even possible.

Now a paper pending publication in Physical Review Letters, describes how NIST and University of Maryland’s research team has made minor adjustments to the process of binding photons together and have actually been able to put protons side by side. Similar to MIT’s breakthrough in 2013, this is the first time to show that it’s possible to bind two photons a finite distance apart. By putting photons side-by-side, the process effectively created a “molecule” of light.

While it can’t technically be considered a molecule by current scientific standards, this new structure of light represents the first potential building block in an assortment of new light sensors, computer information processors, high definition imaging technology and a host of other new and revolutionary technological advancements.

But before we get too excited about being able to create real light sabers, more work is needed to give their theoretical models more physical credence. As one might imagine, binding photons requires extreme conditions and is difficult to achieve even in the lab. It looks like our dreams of being Jedi Knights will have to be shelved for a little longer but, continued testing focused on unraveling the mysteries of light is sure to yield amazing new data about light and how it functions.

Image credit: E. Edwards/JQI

Privacy Preference Center