Let There Be Light

It’s easy to take light for granted and assume that we know everything there is to know about it—after all, it’s everywhere. But as it turns out, we might have only scratched the surface.

Today, physicists announced that they have discovered a new form of light. It’s completely different from our existing rules regarding light and angular momentum, showing that light can take on new and unexpected forms, and these could fundamentally change our current understanding of electromagnetic radiation.

The TCD press release explains how angular momentum operated in relation to light:

"A beam of light is characterised by its colour or wavelength and a less familiar quantity known as angular momentum. Angular momentum measures how much something is rotating. For a beam of light, although travelling in a straight line, it can also be rotating around its own axis. So when light from the mirror hits your eye in the morning, every photon twists your eye a little, one way or another.”

Until today, it was presumed that light, regardless of form, would have a whole number for angular momentum (a constant quantity that measures how much light is rotating). It was thought that the value would always be a multiple of Planck’s constant (the physical constant that sets the scale of quantum effects).

However, researchers from Trinity College Dublin are claiming to have demonstrated that a new form of light exists—one where the angular momentum is just half of this constant value.

Their research has been published in the journal, Science Advances.

Theoretical Physics

But what does this all mean? "The topic of light has always been one of interest to physicists, while also being documented as one of the areas of physics that is best understood," adds one of the researchers, Stefano Sanvito. "This discovery is a breakthrough for the world of physics and science alike."

Apart from completely changing our understanding of light, this new information could ultimately help improve speed and security for current technology, such as fiber-optic cables. Quite simply, it means, if this new form of light can further be developed, it will lead to safer and faster internet connections.

That said, it’s important to note that we still have a long way to go before we get the full benefits of this groundbreaking new discovery. A separate team of researchers will be needed to replicate the work originally done and ensure that the results from the TCD team wasn’t just a one-off (like an artefact).

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