Scientists Discover That Light Can Behave Like a Liquid

Friday, 09 June 2017 - 2:43PM
Weird Science
Physics
Friday, 09 June 2017 - 2:43PM
Scientists Discover That Light Can Behave Like a Liquid
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
It's no secret that light is made up of waves, specifically electromagnetic waves. It has also been known for some time now that visible light is carried by photons (as are all types of electromagnetic radiation). Because of its unique properties, many scientists have found that light acts as both a wave and a particle, but more recent developments show that light is much stranger and more complex than scientists had previously given it credit for. According to recent findings, light can also behave like a liquid. 

Now, light won't randomly just start swirling around like a liquid, or running down a wall. It will only behave as a liquid under specific circumstances—for instance, if the photons making up the light wave begin to interact. Research surrounding this strange behavior is still very much ongoing, and there's not yet a general consensus within the scientific community about how it works. However, there have been some more recent exciting developments.

Researchers from CNR NANOTEC of Lecce in Italy recently collaborated with researchers from Polytechnique Montreal in Canada to explore the idea that when light is "dressed" with electrons, it becomes superfluid. Superfluid, here, meaning that light is capable of flowing with no observable friction across an obstacle and then meeting on the other side without rippling. According to Daniele Sanvitto, who led the research group, "The extraordinary observation in our work is that we have demonstrated that superfluidity can also occur at room-temperature, under ambient conditions, using light-matter particles called polaritons", which is a stark contrast to the extreme conditions that superfluidity is usually observed under (hint: superfluids usually occur around absolute zero). For reference, here's helium acting as a superfluid:



So, what could this strange light behavior lead to? Obviously, photonic devices (devices that work with light) could advance into territories previously labeled "sci-fi". It could affect everything from solar cells to the displays we use in our phones, and it could even affect stranger technologies, like Stephen Hawking's Breakthrough Starshot.
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