Photons are usually thought of as ephemeral, massless particles that rarely interact with each other, but a recent discovery by Harvard and MIT professors may force physicists to rethink that assumption. By pumping atoms into a supercooled vacuum chamber, the project created a non-linear quantum medium in which photons will actually bind to each other, creating a new form of photon-based matter that, as it happens, looks an awful lot like the business end of a light saber.
"Similar to what we see in the movies."
"It's not an in-apt analogy to compare this to light sabers," Harvard physicist Mikhail Lukin told Phys.org. "When these photons interact with each other, they're pushing against and deflecting each other. The physics of what's happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies."
The most immediate applications of the discovery will come not in combat, but in quantum computing, where the new form of light-matter could be used to build more intricate chains of interaction. Light is crucial for the mechanics of quantum computing, but physicists have always been limited by photons' ephemeral nature. With this new medium, in which photons aggressively interact with each other, scientists hope to enable more complex logical circuits that are more analogous to those found in conventional computers.