Scientists discover light could exist in a previously unknown form

August 5, 2016, Imperial College London
Artistic image of light trapped on the surface of a nanoparticle topological insulator. Credit: Vincenzo Giannini

New research suggests that it is possible to create a new form of light by binding light to a single electron, combining the properties of both.

According to the scientists behind the study, from Imperial College London, the coupled and electron would have properties that could lead to circuits that work with packages of light - photons - instead of electrons.

It would also allow researchers to study quantum physical , which govern particles smaller than atoms, on a visible scale.

In normal materials, light interacts with a whole host of electrons present on the surface and within the material. But by using theoretical physics to model the behaviour of light and a recently-discovered class of materials known as topological insulators, Imperial researchers have found that it could interact with just one electron on the surface.

This would create a coupling that merges some of the properties of the light and the electron. Normally, light travels in a straight line, but when bound to the electron it would instead follow its path, tracing the surface of the material.

In the study, published today in Nature Communications, Dr Vincenzo Giannini and colleagues modelled this interaction around a nanoparticle - a small sphere below 0.00000001 metres in diameter - made of a .

Artistic image of light trapped on the surface of a nanoparticle topological insulator. Credit: Vincenzo Giannini

Their models showed that as well as the light taking the property of the electron and circulating the particle, the electron would also take on some of the properties of the light.

Normally, as electrons are travelling along materials, such as electrical circuits, they will stop when faced with a defect. However, Dr Giannini's team discovered that even if there were imperfections in the surface of the nanoparticle, the electron would still be able to travel onwards with the aid of the light.

If this could be adapted into photonic circuits, they would be more robust and less vulnerable to disruption and physical imperfections.

Dr Giannini said: "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 Giannini added that it should be possible to observe the phenomena he has modelled in experiments using current technology, and the team is working with experimental physicists to make this a reality.

He believes that the process that leads to the creation of this new form of light could be scaled up so that the phenomena could observed much more easily. Currently, can only be seen when looking at very small objects or objects that have been super-cooled, but this could allow scientists to study these kinds of behaviour at room temperature.

Explore further: Scientists design energy-carrying particles called 'topological plexcitons'

More information: G. Siroki et al, Single-electron induced surface plasmons on a topological nanoparticle, Nature Communications (2016). DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS12375

Related Stories

Controlling electron spins by light

March 27, 2014

Topological insulators are considered a very promising material class for the development of future electronic devices. A research team at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin has discovered, how light can be used to alter the physical ...

Spin-based electronics: New material successfully tested

July 30, 2014

Spintronics is an emerging field of electronics, where devices work by manipulating the spin of electrons rather than the current generated by their motion. This field can offer significant advantages to computer technology. ...

Recommended for you

Physicists discover new class of pentaquarks

March 26, 2019

Tomasz Skwarnicki, professor of physics in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University, has uncovered new information about a class of particles called pentaquarks. His findings could lead to a new understanding ...

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

Physicists reveal why matter dominates universe

March 21, 2019

Physicists in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University have confirmed that matter and antimatter decay differently for elementary particles containing charmed quarks.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2 / 5 (4) Aug 05, 2016
To understand what the article is saying, one must understand that light is not separate and distinct from the electron, but represents the influence of the like EM repelling forces which cause adjacent nanostructures in the propagating medium to resonate. Light is EM activity, with the characteristics of the nanostructures' reflecting surfaces modulating the EM waves as information that is carried across the medium. The light can be manipulated so long as the dimensions of the propagating particles are factored in, which means on average roughly about 9 gigahertz of EM wave interference give or take. Meta-materials are already being manufactured to manipulate light waves. Solar cells are being used to convert light waves into energy, and so on. Light waves can certainly be trained to influence electrical activity but I think the research as discussed falls a little short re: Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to make inferences.
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 05, 2016
Artists don't understand physics, that image is so-o-o bogus
1.6 / 5 (7) Aug 05, 2016
Photons are balanced quantum charged constructions,consisting of two negatively charged electrons sandwiched between three positrons magnetically bound, thats why when you shoot photons into a heavy element in lab experiment the see a pair of electrons and a positron break out in the photons destruction, the positron the mislabel a proton, and the other two positrons are still magnetically bound to the electrons which they can't measure because the negatively charged electron is the dominant charge of that construction,and they can't measure the minor charge in its attachment to the electron, they mistakenly classify positrons as anti matter, because when they crash them into electrons they think they disappear instead of realizing its magnetically bonded to the electron and its charge is in stealth to there measuring because the positron is actually 33 percent smaller in quantum charge mass than the electron,
1.6 / 5 (7) Aug 05, 2016
Two electrons equal 1+1=2 in quantum mass charge, three positrons equal 3 times 66.666 which equals 1.9998 making the balanced charged magnetic construction
1.6 / 5 (7) Aug 05, 2016
Sorry 3 positrons times .6666 equal 1.9998
1.6 / 5 (7) Aug 05, 2016
Photons in all the light spectrum are all balanced chared construction of equal positive and negative quantum mass, all other matter in the universe is unbalanced positive and negative constructions
5 / 5 (3) Aug 05, 2016
If these are ever made, they should probably be called "photrons" because photons + electron. Then people can work on making photron lasers -- phasers! :-)
2.3 / 5 (12) Aug 06, 2016
I have to wonder if this has implications for high temperature superconductivity.
4.3 / 5 (6) Aug 06, 2016
Hmmm.sometimes I wonder if we're moving towards a description of physics that divests properties of the actual particles. Entanglement is already such a notion and this photon/electron pair seems to also fall into that category. Maybe specific particles are just areas that bind to a certain set of probabilities rather than others. If so one could compute those probabilities looking at the stability of these mixed states (like in the article). After all: it's the properties of a particle that carry information and not the particle itself.

Hmm...something to ponder.
2.1 / 5 (11) Aug 06, 2016
Perhaps not so much divest as adding another layer to the basic particles and forces. Such strange combinations bend my mind...
Aug 06, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
4.5 / 5 (8) Aug 07, 2016
Artists don't understand physics, that image is so-o-o bogus

Whereas generalizations like the above are, of course, utterly scientific.
1 / 5 (4) Aug 07, 2016
Plasmons are a quasi-particle, not a particle - quantized oscillations in a plasma.

The discovery here isn't a new way of binding 'photons' to 'electrons.' The old-fashioned electromagnetic interaction between photons and electrons hasn't been changed - hit them with photons of the right wavelengths and they excite.

It sounds to me like they're saying that when you excite electrons by hitting them with photons, you can change the way electron oscillations - plasmons - manifest and move on certain surfaces.

That's all fine and dandy. But why do we need to confuse laymen (not to mention fringe lunatics) by pretending that we're creating a new kind of particle? That's not responsible science journalism.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2016
u.3, your comment starting with "Photons are balanced quantum charged constructions" is besides hoowie, one smelly jumbled mess of unjustifiable statements.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2016
@antialias_physorg: "photon/electron pair"? Really?!?

Again, evidence that even the intelligent ones among us do not have clear understanding of vision and light behavior. RE: Philip Bucksbaum's research.. http://www.eetime...=1141983
What your eyes see are your brain's decoded modulations riding on the medium's carrier particles' light waves (EM waves, I might remind you). The frequencies of the oscillations of the carrier particles fall within the visible range of the optical spectrum. 'Like polar repulsion' of adjacent particles in the medium in a chain reaction effect carry the information - ie. modulations, which represent the properties and characteristics of the reflecting surfaces in your immediate environment. So long as the source of excitation - the light source - persists, then you will be able to see your environment.

A "photon" represents the energy transferred from one particle to another in this process. It is not a particle.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2016
It has long been established that photons do not have mass. Yet one could argue that energy is mass and vice versa. In the case of light, the energy that is lost in the sourcing of photonic excitation, combustion for example, is transferred to the medium partly as light waves. This is a manifestation of the first law of thermodynamics.

Photons as particles must have mass, but this would violate the first law, by creating energy to meet the requirements for the theory that a photon is a particle. The energy is already represented as photonic excitation - ie. oscillations of the particles in the propagating medium, therefore photons, as construed by most in the physics community, cannot exist as particles.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.