Last Friday, two scientists at the Université de Franche-Comté in Besançon, France published a research paper exploring new methods for simulating and manipulating phonons, techniques that allow them to effectively "steer" light using sound and vice versa. Because phonons — like the closely related photon — exhibit the properties of both a particle and a wave, they have an intimate connection with the physical properties of the material through which they flow. By manipulating these phonons using multiple lasers, scientists can change the optical and (in theory) thermodynamic properties of a substrate — in this case, an optical fiber.

The concept of the phonon has been around — if not completely understood — for several years, but without a practical use this quasiparticle has remained an element of academic intrigue for some time. While this technology may be in labs for years, Technology Review speculates that one some interesting practical applications: imagine a chip that computes data using light and quantum vibrations instead of the electrical impulses of today's circuits, for instance.