There is new research that suggests that it is possible to create a new form of light by binding a single electron to light, which combines the properties of both. This is all according to scientists from Imperial College London. They believe the coupled light and electron would contain properties that could lead to circuits that work thanks to packages of light, also known as photons, instead of electrons. This would allow researchers to study quantum physical phenomena which is what governs particles smaller than atoms on a visible scale.
Light interacts with normal materials with a whole host of electrons on the surface as well as within the material. By using theoretical physics to model the behavior of light and a recently discovered class of materials called topological insulators, researchers have found that they are able to interact with a single electron on the surface. This would ideally create a coupling that merges some of the properties of light with those of the electron. Light typically travels in a straight line but when bound to an electron it would follow its path instead, tracing the outer surface of said material.
The study was published in Nature Communications Journal by Dr. Vincenzo Giannini and his colleagues. They modeled the interaction around a nanoparticle made of a topological insulator. Their models were able to display that not only does light take the property of the electron and begin to circle the particle but the electron also takes on some of the properties of the light.
In normal circumstances, electrons that are traveling along materials will stop when they are faced with a defect. Dr. Giannini’s team found that even if there are imperfections on the surface of the nanoparticle, the electron would continue to travel forward thanks to the help of the light. If there was a way to apply this to photonic circuits, they would become far more robust and less vulnerable to disruption as well as physical imperfections.
Dr. Giannini says the result of the research will have a huge impact on the way we conceive light. Topological insulators were only discovered in the last decade, but are already providing us with new phenomena to study and new ways to explore important concepts in physics. He added that it should be possible to watch and track the phenomena he has modeled in experiments using current technology and the team is currently working directly with experimental physicists to make this something that can be reproduced in the real world.
Giannini believes that the process that leads to the creation of this new form of light could be used on a much larger scale so that the phenomena could be viewed much easier. As of now, quantum phenomena can only be seen when you are viewing very small objects or objects that have been drastically cooled. This may allow scientists to study similar kinds of behavior at room temperature in the not so distant future, something researchers are working hard at being able to accomplish.