Jul 19, 2019 | Updated: 08:51 AM EDT

The Light Theory—How Researchers Are Proving Einstein Right With a Snapshot

Mar 02, 2015 02:59 PM EST


When it comes to science, the bulk of researchers don't believe something until they see it with their own eyes. If there's a new species or a new planet they want the coordinates so they can set their sights on it too. But for some of the disciplines it's far easier to take someone else's word for it, and rather check the validity of their math just to make sure they're on the right track.

As one of these few disciplines, quantum physics falls into a realm of science where well-documented and highly regarded theories take precedence. But explaining these theories requires a deep understanding of the underlying science, and devising lab experiments to illustrate them is a near impossible feat. One research team of American and Swiss physicists with the EPFL Labs in Switzerland, however, are doing just that. And equipped with some wire, a laser and quick-capturing electron microscope they're proving what Einstein theorized was true - light can act as a particle and a wave.

"This experiment demonstrates that, for the first time ever, we can film quantum mechanics - and its paradoxical nature - directly" lead researcher of the study, Fabrizio Carbone says.

The study, to be published this week in the journal Nature Communications, was devised by the international team to generate a quantum "photograph" of light in its two capacities. Firing a laser at a microscopic nanowire, the researchers were able to force light to act as a wave, as it travelled along the length of the wire. But when multiple waves met, traveling in opposite directions they formed a "standing wave", which emits light as particles instead. 

To capture the rare event, and document their theory-proving study, the researchers shot a stream of electrons at the nanowire and captured the image with an advanced electron microscope-one of only two in existence.

So what does this mean for quantum physicists?

 While the study illustrates advanced theoretical and paradoxical phenomena, to a degree which many scientists would not have the capacity to understand, the researchers also say that the experiment has practical applications as well. Not only did the study prove that the unseen can be seen with a bit of unconventional thinking, and tricky experimental design, but it also shows researchers involved in the next phase of the digital world that we are able to even control light as we choose, which has far greater implications when it comes to computing faster than you even though imaginable.

"Being able to image and control quantum phenomena at the nanometer scale like this" Carbone says, "opens up a new route toward quantum computing."

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