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06-13-2024

Fascinating behavior of 'super photons' in the quantum realm

Have you ever wondered what happens when thousands of particles of light merge into a single entity? This phenomenon, known as a “super photon,” has fascinated physicists for years.

Now, researchers have made an intriguing discovery that broadens our understanding of this exotic quantum state.

Dr. Julian Schmitt and his colleagues from the Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Bonn have shown that photon Bose-Einstein condensates, also known as quantum gases, obey a fundamental theorem of physics.

Their findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, open up new possibilities for measuring properties of these enigmatic entities that were previously difficult to access.

Birth of a super photon

To create a super photon, Bose-Einstein condensate, the researchers filled a tiny container with a dye solution and surrounded it with highly reflective walls.

They then excited the dye molecules with a laser, producing photons that bounced back and forth between the surfaces.

As the particles of light repeatedly collided with the dye molecules, they cooled down and finally condensed into a quantum gas.

But the process doesn’t stop there. The particles of the super photon continue to collide with the dye molecules, being swallowed up and spat out again, causing the quantum gas to flicker like a candle.

This flickering became the key to unlocking the secrets of the photon Bose-Einstein condensate.

Understanding quantum gases and super photons

Quantum gases are a fascinating state of matter that emerge when a collection of particles, such as atoms or photons, are cooled to extremely low temperatures near absolute zero.

At these temperatures, the quantum mechanical properties of the particles become dominant, leading to unique and counterintuitive behaviors.

Several things are important to know about quantum gases:

Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC)

When certain types of particles (bosons) are cooled to near absolute zero, they can collapse into a single quantum state, forming a Bose-Einstein condensate. In a BEC, the particles lose their individual identities and behave as a single, coherent entity.

Fermionic quantum gases

Quantum gases can also be formed using fermions, particles with half-integer spin. Unlike bosons, fermions obey the Pauli exclusion principle, which states that no two identical fermions can occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. Fermionic quantum gases exhibit different properties than Bose-Einstein condensates.

Superfluidity

Some quantum gases, such as those composed of helium-4 atoms, can exhibit superfluidity. In a superfluid state, the gas flows without friction and can even climb up the walls of its container.

Quantum simulations

Quantum gases provide a powerful platform for simulating complex quantum systems. By manipulating the interactions between the particles in a quantum gas, researchers can model and study phenomena that are difficult to observe directly, such as superconductivity and quantum magnetism.

Precision measurements

The unique properties of quantum gases make them ideal for precision measurements. For example, atomic clocks based on quantum gases are among the most accurate timekeeping devices in the world.

Finally, quantum gases have potential applications in quantum information processing, where they could be used to store and manipulate quantum bits (qubits) for quantum computing and communication.

Super photons are like a campfire

To understand the behavior of the super photon, the researchers drew an analogy to a campfire. Imagine a fire that sometimes randomly flares up very strongly.

After the blaze, the flames slowly die down, and the fire returns to its original state. Interestingly, you can also cause the fire to flare up intentionally by blowing air into the embers.

The regression theorem predicts that the fire will continue to burn down in the same way, regardless of whether the flare-up occurred randomly or was intentionally caused.

In other words, it responds to the perturbation in exactly the same way as it fluctuates on its own without any perturbation.

Testing the super photon theorem

The researchers set out to determine whether this behavior also applies to quantum gases. They measured the flickering of the super photons to quantify the statistical fluctuations and then gently perturbed the system by briefly firing another laser at the super photon.

“We were able to observe that the response to this gentle perturbation follows precisely the same dynamics as the random fluctuations without a perturbation,” says Dr. Schmitt.

“In this way, we were able to demonstrate for the first time that this theorem also applies to exotic forms of matter as quantum gases.”

Interestingly, the theorem remains valid even for strong perturbations. Systems usually respond differently to stronger perturbations than they do to weaker ones, a phenomenon known as nonlinear behavior.

However, the researchers, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Antwerp, found that the theorem holds true even in these cases.

Diving deep into the unknown

The findings have significant implications for fundamental research with photonic quantum gases. Often, researchers don’t know precisely how these entities will flicker in their brightness.

By studying how the super photon responds to controlled perturbations, they can learn about unknown properties under very controlled conditions.

“It will enable us, for example, to find out how novel photonic materials consisting of many super photons behave at their core,” explains Dr. Schmitt.

As we continue to explore the fascinating world of quantum physics, discoveries like this bring us one step closer to unraveling the mysteries of the universe.

The secret life of super photons may hold the key to unlocking new frontiers in science and technology, and we can’t wait to see where this journey takes us next.

The full study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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