Physics breakthrough: A completely new light source created

Physicists thought this was impossible. The discovery might lead to lasers that work in the X-ray range and more powerful computer chips.

Scientists have created a completely new light source by getting light particles to act like atoms.

By cooling photons, the light particles condensed so they could behave like a single entity.

Researchers at the University of Bonn have shown that super particles can be made with light.

Albert Einstein and Satyendra Nath Bose thought this was possible back in 1925.

The Bonn researchers proved Einstein and Bose had the right instincts all along. The discovery could one day shrink electronic devices.

Until now, this behavior has only been seen in atoms. The applications of this physics breakthrough could one day be used to build more powerful computer chips and make lasers that work in the X-ray range.

Nobody has ever created a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) with photons before. BECs are usually made with cold atoms of gas.

In the 1920s, it was thought this strange quantum phase of matter existed. If the atoms were cooled to close to absolute zero, then the atoms would be pushed into the same quantum state and they'd act as one.

Zeeya Merali wrote in Nature:

In 1995, two experimental groups independently produced the first examples of BECs with rubidium and sodium atoms. In theory, physicists knew that it should also be possible to form a BEC using particles of light, or photons. But in practice it seemed near impossible because, unlike atoms, the number of photons in an experiment is not conserved.

However, cooling light this way and trying to concentrate it was another story altogether. But the Bonn researchers proved that they could get the photons to behave like one particle. And they did this at room temperature.

As it turns out, atomic gases aren't the only ones that act like a point-like particle at high temperatures and like a wave in cold temperatures. Photonic gases can act that way too.

The change was obvious. The particles went from "a blurry glow to a bright point," according to New Scientist.

The researchers used two highly reflective mirrors to reflect the photons. This helped lower the photons' energy state and spared the researchers the common disappearing act put on by photons.

(Usually light particles are absorbed into the material around it so it's easy for them to get lost. The researchers were able to get around this though).

The researchers used a laser to excite a dye solution strategically placed between the two mirrors. This was critical in getting the light particles to condense into a super photon.

"We are currently not capable of producing lasers that generate very short-wave light – i.e. in the UV or X-ray range," Bonn scientist Jan Klärs said in a statement. "With a photonic Bose-Einstein condensate this should, however, be possible."

Laser-like X-rays would help create more powerful computers.

No doubt, working in smaller wavelengths with laser-like X-rays could help our electronic devices get even smaller than they already are.

Photo: Jan Klaers/ University of Bonn

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