The particle-wave nature of light has fascinated researchers for more than 200 years, but a new experiment has allowed researchers to visualize it like never before. This image was taken by turning an electron microscope on a laser-charged nanowire. Light moved down the wire in both directions, creating a standing wave of photons, which the electron microscope was able to capture by focusing on the wire. The result is an image that captures both the wave and particle nature of light. A wave is clearly visible in the curves of the figure, but each data point represents a unique interaction between a photon and an electron, slowing or speeding the electron enough to be measured by the microscope.
The experiment was possible in large part because of the increasing speed and precision of electron microscopes, giving a new window into quantum behaviors. The research could result in new insights in a range of fields, but it's particularly relevant to scientists looking to isolate and tame quantum particles for quantum computing projects, which both Google and Microsoft have pursued. As researchers get a better look at the particles involved, it will become easier to accommodate them in experimental computing schemes. "Being able to image and control quantum phenomena at the nanometer scale like this opens up a new route towards quantum computing," said Fabrizio Carbone, a scientist at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne who worked on the experiment.