New Kind of Light Created in Physics Breakthrough


Physicists have created a new kind of light by chilling photons into a blob state.

Just like solids, liquids and gases, this recently discovered condition represents a state of matter. Called a Bose-Einstein condensate, it was created in 1995 with super-cold atoms of a gas, but scientists had thought it could not be done with photons, which are basic units of light.  However, physicists Jan Klärs, Julian Schmitt, Frank Vewinger and Martin Weitz of the University of Bonn in Germany reported accomplishing it. They have dubbed the new particles “super photons.”

Particles in a traditional Bose-Einstein condensate are cooled down close to absolute zero, until they glom onto each other and become indistinguishable, acting as one giant particle. Experts thought photons (packets of light) would be unable to achieve this state because it seemed impossible to cool light while concentrating it at the same time. Because photons are massless particles, they can simply be absorbed into their surroundings and disappear, which usually happens when they are cooled down.

Written By: Clara Moskowitz
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  1. This sounds like good progress in solving the matter/energy puzzles physicists are grappling with!

  2. Very cool but the link bogs down.  Is this because they have stolen all the photons?

  3. Uhm…  I thought I somehow grasped the basic concepts of physics, but apparently I do not.  Cooling down photons ?  Isn’t temperature a property of atoms/molecules ?  I.e. how hard they vibrate or bounce around ?  How does that translate to photons ?

  4. Ah, the old trick of using mirrors to codense photons.  I was doing that in my garage the other day for kicks. 

    Kidding aside, it’s amazing how Bose & Einstein used mathmatics to make accurate models decades before they could be verified experimentally.

  5. So when do I get to buy finely crafted alcoholic beverages suspended in solid light?

  6. The article stopped short of a happy ending for me.  I realize not every breakthrough will result in non-stick frying pans but when the writer said this could result in very short wave UV or X-ray light, he should have at least added another line saying where that gets us.  Any help from the board here?

  7. Photon Gas:

    In a gas with massive particles, the energy of the particles is distributed according to a Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution. This distribution is established as the particles collide with each other, exchanging energy (and momentum) in the process. In a photon gas, there will also be an equilibrium distribution, but photons do not collide with each other (except under very extreme conditions) so that the equilibrium distribution must be established by other means. The most common way that an equilibrium distribution is established is by the interaction of the photons with matter. If the photons are absorbed and emitted by the walls of the system containing the photon gas, and the walls are at a particular temperature, then the equilibrium distribution for the photons will be a black body distribution at that temperature.

  8. They’ve spent millions of Euros on this… and just so that they can use the word ‘glob’ in the article.  

  9. Given that light travels through some very cold regions of space and some very dense regions of space, could this mean that the properties of that light perceived by us is more ambiguous than previously thought? Does it infer that it’s original distance from us or it’s magnitude registered by us is not absolute. Could this mean for example that quasars may not have the integrity required to act as our inter-galactic “mileposts” Do “heavier” photons travel at the same speed as bog standard photons?

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