Scientists Just Created Particles With Negative Mass That Could Make Lasers Even More Powerful

Friday, 12 January 2018 - 11:31AM
Friday, 12 January 2018 - 11:31AM
Scientists Just Created Particles With Negative Mass That Could Make Lasers Even More Powerful
Image credit: MICHAEL OSADCIW/UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER
Negativity is a difficult concept to grasp in science.

It may seem impossible for a particle to weight less than nothing—to literally have a negative mass—but this is the big breakthrough that a team of scientists at the University of Rochester has been attempting to make.

A new study, published in Nature, details the creation of a machine that can create particles with a negative mass. While it's still very early in the process of testing this new creation, the hope is that this development will one day help to create lasers that require a lot less energy in order to produce a beam of light, meaning that we can make increasingly powerful lasers with greater ease.

This doesn't mean that Star Wars-style lightsabers will be possible (that requires a whole different set of math) but for anyone who loves pretty lasers, there's a lot of good stuff here to get excited about.

As difficult as it might be to try and think about the existence of matter that has a negative mass, it's even more difficult to try and work with them in a practical scenario. According to Nick Vamivakas, co-author of the study:

Opening quote
"That's a kind of mind-bending thing to think about, because if you try to push or pull it, it will go in the opposite direction from what your intuition would tell you."
Closing quote


It should be noted that these scientists can't simply cook up a vat of completely negative-mass Ant Man Pym Particles at whim. The process involves focusing light between two mirrors, with a semiconductor added into the process to create exciton particles that then bond with light photons to create the newly invented polaritons. Within this mix of particles, some (but, crucially not all) have a negative mass, meaning that they react in the opposite way that you'd expect, pushing when they should pull.



Sadly, this doesn't currently mean that we can create items that break the law of gravity, so at present, this technology can't be put to use to create hoverboards, as Vamivakas notes:

Opening quote
"People have been asking me if 'negative mass' means instead of falling because of gravity the device would float. That's not what this means. Negative mass is a property of the particles within the material. The material still has mass; if I take my hand off it, it'll fall to the floor."
Closing quote


So these new polariton particles can't be used to make lightsabers, they can't create Ant Man, and they can't make hoverboards. Don't be too discouraged, though: just because we don't instantly have a method to create the most sought-after science fiction items, it doesn't mean that there's not a lot we can learn from studying negative mass particles.

A lot of the coming discoveries can't yet be predicted. As scientists work to study these new polaritons up close, we're going to find a lot of things that we probably wouldn't expect, simply by virtue of the unpredictable nature of these incredibly contrary particles.

Who knows? With polaritons potentially giving us a new method for laser production, we might just get some new military-grade laser weapons out of this.

Whether or not that sounds like a good thing depends on who's holding the laser.
Science
Science News