That’s So Rad: Get Enlightened

By Radhika Viswanathan

All you nerds—self-proclaimed or closeted—listen up! The greatest invention we know of could soon become a reality due to findings of researchers at MIT and Harvard. Although the lightsaber only existed a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, this sci-fi technology may find its way back into existence.

A paper published in the journal Nature earlier this year detailed how light behaves in ways never before imagined. Light is made of massless particles known as photons. Because photons have no mass, it was long believed that they could not interact. This recent experiment suggests that photons may actually be able to form bonds.

The physicists who discovered the new property of photons shot two individual photons into a cloud of rubidium atoms. When the photons were emitted, the scientists were surprised to see that they had bound together just like oxygen and hydrogen bind to form water.

This observation raised many questions, the most important one being: Why did this happen? How did two massless particles bind together? Not much is known about photons, but the current hypothesis is known as the Rydberg blockade. The two photons excite electrons in different regions. As the electrons interact, the energy that the electrons received from the photons pushes and pulls the two photons together, making the photons interact.

The researchers have a lot of future plans for using this data. Other than making lightsabers—a product that, unfortunately, the researchers don’t seem to be very interested in—the idea of binding photons could be most useful in the transmission of information. Computers could rely on photons instead of electrons to send signals, which would increase the speed at which information travels.
Now that would be totally rad.

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