COMING SOON TO A SPORTS STORE NEAR YOU: THE LIGHT SABERSeptember 29, 2013
This is just too good not to share, and in fact, so many of you shared it with me, including many regulars, I simply have to let everyone know about it. There exists a lot of strange "stuff" in the world of theoretical physics: dark matter, dark energy, giant whirlpools in the nothingness called black holes, wormholes (or, to give it a more technical name, Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen bridges), anti-matter (particles with the opposite spin to their "matter counterparts"), not to mention the bizarre cosmologies to come out of the world of quantum mechanics: the uncertainty principle and all its strange children: wave-particle dualities, phase spaces, collapsing wave functions, multi-verse theory.
One of them is the very arcane idea of taking two photons - those are the little particles of light that physicists take about when they're not talking about light as waves(see the above wave-particle duality) - and binding them together to form, well, what can only be described as "molecules" of pure light. And the result is, to quote the following article, a "not in-apt analogy to the light saber" (and for those who have been following my notes on analogical calculus, note the reference to "inept" vs "apt" analogies):
So what's all the fun of coupling light and matter together in this way? I hope you caught the following reference:
"'It's a photonic interaction that's mediated by the atomic interaction,' Lukin said. 'That makes these two photons behave like a molecule, and when they exit the medium they're much more likely to do so together than as single photons.'
"While the effect is unusual, it does have some practical applications as well.
"'We do this for fun, and because we're pushing the frontiers of science,' Lukin said. 'But it feeds into the bigger picture of what we're doing because photons remain the best possible means to carry quantum information. The handicap, though, has been that photons don't interact with each other.'
"To build a quantum computer, he explained, researchers need to build a system that can preserve quantum information, and process it using quantum logic operations. The challenge, however, is that quantum logic requires interactions between individual quanta so that quantum systems can be switched to perform information processing.
"'What we demonstrate with this process allows us to do that,' Lukin said. 'Before we make a useful, practical quantum switch or photonic logic gate we have to improve the performance, so it's still at the proof-of-concept level, but this is an important step. The physical principles we've established here are important.'"
All this lays out an interesting possibility, one of those "high octane speculations" that is our trademark. The release of this bit of news, you'll recall, follows the story that we blogged about several weeks ago, regarding the claims that there was already in existence a quantum computing network - think of it as an internet on steroids, and then some - at Los Alamos and other defense-related sites in New Mexico. And that suggests that the technique being announced here might have been brought to a much higher pitch of development in the black projects world than is being suggested in this article.
And that raises further high octane possibilities. The article refers to a "blending of light and matter," so let's really wildly speculate on the basis of that "not in-apt analogy to the light saber." Suppose we "fused" light, electromagnetic energy, and matter, in a unique way, by building a region or column in a physical medium that is "solidified" by standing waves of EM energy. Of course, that would require an impractically gimungous(to use Art Bell's fabulous term) amount of energy. But just suppose one could solidify a column of air in such a fashion... Well, the point is, fantasizing about quantum "molecules" used to be a fun exercise. A mathematical plaything. So perhaps that phrase about a "not in-apt analogy to the light saber" is the first barely perceptible crack in the door of letting us know what is coming down the pike next, in a generation or two perhaps.
After all, now they've done, once again, the impossible, and created that quantum photonic molecule. A first step, a small one, but a significant one, on the way to quantum switches, and they, in turn, possibly to much more beyond.
See you on the flip side.