R Chikkaraddy/J Baumberg
Hard Science

Part Light, Part Matter: Physicists Create ‘Mixed Matter’ at Room Temperature

Light meets matter and mixes, allowing scientists to uncover the quantum nature of light.

It’s a Trap!

A group of physicists from the UK were able to mix light and molecules at room temperature. This phenomenon is called strong coupling. It has been achieved before, but only at very low temperatures. Achieving this at room temperature makes it easier to manipulate the process and to do experiments at lower costs.

“The experiment is a test that light is quantum in nature and indeed it showed the quantum effects we predicted. This is a remarkable crossing of theory and experiment,” said Ortwin Hess, a researcher from the Imperial College London.

Scientists from the University of Cambridge created a trap that prevents photons from escaping when emitted by a molecule. This causes an oscillation of energy between the molecule and photon creating a state that is partly matter, partly light.

This is Gold

The trap, known as a ‘nanopore’ is a cavity that is a nanometer wide, only a billionth of a meter. It was formed between a tiny gold sphere and a gold film, basically a golden hall of mirrors. The film creates a mirror image of the sphere so that a molecule can be positioned in a certain way that ensures entrapment of an emitted photon. According to Hess, the cavity is small enough so that light doesn’t have a choice but to come together with matter.

Scientists verified the occurrence of this phenomenon by observing the electromagnetic radiation scattered by the molecule.

This success opens a lot of doors for exploration of the structure of matter, and will aid in studying processes such as photosynthesis, which utilizes light to produce another type of energy.

The study is published in Nature.

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