A team of physicists from MIT and Harvard have created a new form of matter by binding photons into molecules. The team compared the way these new molecules interact to lightsabers, and the Internet went bonkers. Pump the brakes, everyone. They have not created a lightsaber. Here’s what happened.
Photons don’t interact with each other. If you shine two lasers at one another, the beams can pass through one another completely unaffected. If you try to pass two lightsabers through one another, well, you get Star Wars. The “blades” of the lightsabers do interact by clashing together. They are essentially solid light.
The “photonic molecules” created by the team at the Harvard-MIT Center of Ultracold Atoms interact in a similar way. They don’t simply pass through each other like typical photons. They bump up against each other and clash in a way that can fairly be described as lightsaber-esque if that were a word.
It’s incredible that there’s a new form of matter, and from what we’ve read comparing the interaction of these molecules to lightsabers doesn’t seem like a bad description. Then we saw the headlines that resulted:
Scientists accidentally create a LIGHTSABER http://t.co/xPFUG3zIIm
— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) September 26, 2013
No, they didn’t. They created a new form of matter that behaves like a LIGHTSABER.
Photons and the ‘Force’: Scientists discover way to create real-life lightsaber http://t.co/Gu7UxshiWW
— CTVNews (@CTVNews) September 27, 2013
They have not. Although the photonic molecules interact in a way that compares to lightsabers, that doesn’t mean the molecules are themselves the stuff of lightsabers, or that, even if they were, there is a way to scale that up into an actual working prototype.
— WIRED Insider (@WIREDInsider) September 27, 2013
Et tu, Wired?
We’d all love to see lightsabers become a reality so we can have our dads chop our hands off and get robot hands, but it’s an unfounded jump to say that photonic molecules equal lightsabers, so please stop doing it. Instead, let’s all focus on the exciting prospects photonic molecules have for quantum computing.
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