EPFL scientists have broken the record for capturing an image of light as both wave and particle at the same time, that is, light displaying as both wave and particle at the same material moment. Publishing their study in the journal Nature Communications, this is first time scientists would capture an image of light simultaneously as both wave and particle.

The closest scientists had ever come at capturing an image of light was either as a wave or a particle, but never both at the same time, until now. Albert Einstein had earlier proposed that UV light causes an emission of electrons when it hits a metal surface, in a photoelectric reaction that shows that light, earlier thought to only be a wave, is also a stream of particles.

light image

Lead researcher Fabrizio Carbone of EPFL led other researchers to conduct an experiment where they used electrons to image light. According to ECN mag, the experiment was set up this way: “A pulse of laser light is fired at a tiny metallic nanowire. The laser adds energy to the charged particles in the nanowire, causing them to vibrate. Light travels along this tiny wire in two possible directions, like cars on a highway. When waves traveling in opposite directions meet each other they form a new wave that looks like it is standing in place. Here, this standing wave becomes the source of light for the experiment, radiating around the nanowire.”

light boffins

But the scientists applied a technique whereby they shot streams of electrons close “to the nanowire, using them to image the standing wave of light. As the electrons interacted with the confined light on the nanowire, they either sped up or slowed down. Using the ultrafast microscope to image the position where this change in speed occurred, Carbone’s team could now visualize the standing wave, which acts as a fingerprint of the wave-nature of light.”

According to Fabrizio Carbone “This experiment demonstrates that, for the first time ever, we can film quantum mechanics – and its paradoxical nature – directly.” More so, this effort opens up fundamental science to untold future technologies. “Being able to image and control quantum phenomena at the nanometer scale like this opens up a new route towards quantum computing.”

Source: Nature.

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