Artistic image of light trapped on the surface of a nanoparticle topological insulator. (credit: Vincenzo Giannini)
Researchers from the Imperial College London have suggested that it is possible to create a new form of light by coupling light into a single electron. The resulting light has the properties of both the electron and the light.
The results of the new study have been reported in the Nature Communications journal.
The researchers explained that the combined light and electron would exhibit properties that would help to create circuits capable of working with packages of light or photons rather than electrons. This breakthrough would also enable scientists to explore quantum physical phenomena that govern particles tinier than atoms, on a visible scale.
In normal materials, light interacts with all of the electrons present on the surface and within in a material. In their research, the team from Imperial modeled the behavior of light and topological insulators, a new class of materials, using theoretical physic
What they found was rather surprising, as the light is able to interact with the only electron present on the surface.
This interaction would produce a coupling that exhibits some of the characteristics of the electron as well as the light.
Generally, light travels in a straight line. However, when coupled to the electron, it would follow the electrons path instead, tracing the material surface.
In the research, this interaction was modeled around a nanoparticle made of a topological insulator by Dr. Vincenzo Giannini and his collaborators. The nanoparticle is a small sphere with a diameter of less than 0.00000001 m.
Their models revealed that the coupled light takes the property of the electron and circulates the nanoparticle, while the electron would exhibit some of the characteristics of the light.
Electrons normally travel along materials like electrical circuits and stop when they face any defect. In the study, Dr. Giannini's team found that the electron would be able to move forward with the help of the light, even if imperfections were present on the nanoparticle surface. If it is possible to adapt this ability into photonic circuits, the resulting circuits would show very high robustness and be less prone to disruption and physical imperfections.
The results of this 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.
Dr. Vincenzo Giannini, Imperial College London
Dr. Giannini went on to say that the phenomena that he has modeled could be observed using existing technology. To realize this feat, Dr Giannini’s team is working closely with experimental physicists.
He suggests that it is possible to scale up the process that generates a new form of light, allowing the easier observation of the phenomena.