The production of a new kind of light has raised hopes that quantum research could be about to make a leap forward.

A new kind of light has been produced by scientists who bound photons to single electrons. The team of researchers published the findings of their research on Friday in the journal Nature Communications, writes Joseph Dussault for The Christian Science Monitor.

Light, Quantum Research
Photo by ColiN00B (Pixabay)

Advances could lead to progress in quantum research

The physicists behind the study believe that the new particles could be put to work in photonic circuits, allowing them to study quantum phenomena on a visible scale.

“The results of this research will have a huge impact on the way we conceive light,” said lead author Vincenzo Giannini in a statement.

Particles known as photons are the basic constituent of light. They interact with electrons on the surface of a material when they come into contact with it. Dr. Giannini set out to investigate how photons interact with a “recently discovered” kind of materials known as topological insulators.

Digital models show interaction between particles

Dr. Giannini lectures in the physics department of Imperial College London, and worked with his team to come up with digital models that predicted how the particles would interact. The models used a single nanoparticle made of topological insulator to show that it was possible for light to interact with a single surface electron.

The scientists were able to combine certain properties of the particles by coupling them together. Under normal circumstances light travels in a straight line, but when it is bound to a single electron it would follow the same path as the electron on the surface of a material. At the same time, these electrons would normally stop moving if they come into contact with a poor conductor, but thanks to the presence of photons the new particle would keep moving.

These photonic circuits could drive quantum simulators, or used in solid-state quantum memory systems. These systems are vital to the functioning of quantum computers.

Existing technology could be used to replicate models

The scientists believe that the coupled particles could make for more durable photonic circuits, which would be less likely to be affected by “disruption and physical imperfections.”

In general quantum phenomena can only be observed with tiny particles, or in materials that have been supercooled. One example is superposition, in which particles exist in two states at the same time.

However the combination photon-electron could mean that scientists can carry out experiments at room temperature on the visible scale. The researchers believe that the models can be replicated using existing technology.

The next step for Giannini and the team is to observe this coupling in a real experiment.

“Topological insulators were only discovered in the last decade,” Giannini says, “but are already providing us with new phenomena to study and new ways to explore important concepts in physics.”

One of the major limitations of quantum computing at the moment is that quantum computers must chill atoms to nearly absolute zero in order to read qubits. As a result the computers must be incredibly large to fit cooling hardware inside, and costs go through the roof.

If photons and electrons can be combined in topological insulators, we might be able to read qubits at room temperature. This would be a huge leap for quantum computing, and means that quantum computers could shrink considerably in size to around the same dimensions as a standard laptop.