In a significant breakthrough, scientists have discovered a new form of light that will impact our very understanding of the fundamental nature of light.
One of the measurable characteristics of a beam of light is known as angular momentum. Until now, it was thought that in all forms of light the angular momentum would be a multiple of Planck’s constant, the physical constant that sets the scale of quantum effects.
Now, researchers from Trinity College Dublin’s School of Physics and CRANN Institute have demonstrated a new form of light, where the angular momentum of each photon (a particle of visible light) takes only half of this value.
This difference, though small, is profound, researchers said.
“We’re interested in finding out how we can change the way light behaves and how that could be useful. What I think is so exciting about this result is that even this fundamental property of light, that physicists have always thought was fixed, can be changed,” said Asst. Prof. Paul Eastham.
“Our discovery will have real impacts for the study of light waves in areas such as secure optical communications,” Prof. John Donegan said. Adding to his statement, Prof. Stefano Sanvito, Director of CRANN said, “This discovery is a breakthrough for the world of physics and science alike.”
In the 1830s, mathematician William Rowan Hamilton and physicist Humphrey Lloyd found that upon passing through certain crystals, a ray of light became a hollow cylinder. The team used this phenomenon to generate beams of light with a screw-like structure.
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Analysing these beams within the theory of quantum mechanics they predicted that the angular momentum of the photon would be half-integer, and devised an experiment to test their prediction. Using a specially-constructed device, they were able to measure the flow of angular momentum in a beam of light. They were also able to, for the first time, measure the variations in this flow caused by quantum effects.