back to article Boffins have constructed a new LIGHT SABRE. Their skills are complete

Top boffins in the US say they have managed to make light behave in the same way as solid matter – and they've saved us the trouble by suggesting that this is pretty much the same as building a working Jedi light sabre. "It's not an inapt analogy to compare this to light sabers," boasts Harvard physics prof Mikhail Lukin, one …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Gareth Perch
    FAIL

    Use The Force, Lukin

    Seriously - no Star Wars reference to the guy's surname in the title / subtitle / article?

    1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Use The Force, Lukin

      Funny you should mention star wars...

      While this probably isn't light saber tech... it could be used for true 3D vids and modeling.

      Would it fit the definition of holographic display?

      But you get the idea.

      The star wars reference... 'help me Obi Wan...'

      1. David 164 Bronze badge

        Re: Use The Force, Lukin

        Now you mention it, this does sound like the foundational technology Holodecks in Star Trek, it would be a bit chilly in their through.

    2. C 18
      Facepalm

      Re: Use The Force, Lukin

      These aren't the droids you're Lukin for.

  2. Cliff

    If I was making a press release like this

    I would make damn sure I released it on April 1st - just to fuck with everyone who dismissed it as a joke.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: If I was making a press release like this

      "I would make damn sure I released it on April 1st - just to fuck with everyone who dismissed it as a joke."

      No can do.

      This academia.

      Publish or perish.

    2. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

      Re: If I was making a press release like this

      Nah. I'd have released it on May 3rd. Then I could sign off with "May the fourth be with you"

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No "Lukin, I am your father" reference? Disappointed.

    1. breakfast

      "Lukin, I am your fatherin," surely?

  4. Arachnoid

    So all one needs.......

    Is a good pair of insulated oven gloves and your good to go save the Universe

    1. Jan 0
      Headmaster

      Re: So all one needs.......

      but, I haven't got a "good to go save the universe".

      1. Great Bu

        but, I haven't got a "good to go save the universe".

        You can knock one up out of an apostrophe and the letter 'E'.....

  5. Z-Eden

    Jedi and force stuff side, what an interesting development. Wonder what kind of application photon matter would have or even if it is feasible for general use

    1. John 110
      Coat

      title. what title

      Hard-light holography. What do you think Mr Rimmer?

      1. Ben Rosenthal

        Re: Hard-light hologram

        Puncture repair kit on standby Mr Rimmer sir.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Boffin

      " Wonder what kind of application photon matter would have"

      Read the link might be an idea?

      But the TL:DR answer is :

      "Particular applications of this technique include all-optical switching, deterministic photonic quantum logic and the generation of strongly correlated states of light9."

      1. Richard 81

        Re: " Wonder what kind of application photon matter would have"

        "Read the link might be an idea?"

        That's not really fair to say to someone when the article is behind a paywall, now is it? OK, so in this case an example did happen to be in the abstract, but still not everyone has a subscription to every journal. Of course, the authors could have gone open access, as we all should these days.

        1. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: " Wonder what kind of application photon matter would have"

          I wonder how much support the Harvard-MIT Center for Ultracold Atoms receives from the US government.

          1. Wzrd1

            Re: " Wonder what kind of application photon matter would have"

            "I wonder how much support the Harvard-MIT Center for Ultracold Atoms receives from the US government."

            If the research was US Government funded and not classified, it'd not be behind a pay wall. It would be openly available for all to read.

            Forget what law that was that required that one.

            For classified stuff, all bets are off, save that it wouldn't end up published for a generation or so.

    3. Not_The_Droids

      Duh

      Photon torpedoes, of course. Oh wait, that's Star Trek. Wrong universe, my bad.

    4. Wzrd1

      "Wonder what kind of application photon matter would have or even if it is feasible for general use"

      How about a holodeck?

      Light sabre.

      Hard light bridge.

      Hard light windows.

      Maybe a more energy efficient deflector, more efficient than a plasma window?

    5. Myvekk

      Solidified light... Hmmm, shields, physically interactive hologram, (EMH anyone?)

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Personally I've always considered light sabres to be magnetically confined plasma. Makes much more sense; "explains" how they cut, "explains" how they can't go through each other, "explains" the noise, etc.

    I'll get me coat.

    1. Thecowking

      Exactly

      In uni we worked out that the "Light" and the crystal were probably a laser which supplied the energy to create the plasma and keep it hot.

      The trigger activates the magnetic bottle, releases enough matter to become plasma which is then excited by the laser, electrons are diverted to one end of the bottle and possibly allowed to escape, where they interact with the atmosphere (creating the hiss-crackle as the blade is extended). The energy and mass lost when the blade interacts with the environment is why the laser has to be kept on and the blade continues to crackle as it's used.

      Might have been a sad git at uni. Probably still am.

      1. Suricou Raven

        Re: Exactly

        I gave a lot of thought to this myself, but concluded there was no way a sabre effect could be achieved.

        I have designed a force field, though. I think it would work. It just has a few minor practical issues, like requiring the entire output of a power station to generate a field big enough to block a corridoor, an a tendency to incinerate anything that touches it. But the theory would work: You could flip marbles at it and they would just bounce off.

        One day I will find a way to build it. I think I could run a small-scale prototype off no more than twenty kilowatts or so.

      2. Mike 16 Silver badge

        Re: Exactly

        You'll be wanting to read up on the work of Kenneth R. Shoulders then.

        Seriously.

        He was looking into building structures, including processors, from plasma back in the early 1960s.

    2. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Yes, that certainly makes more sense than photons behaving as 'normal' matter. I suspect that a rod constructed of matter-photons would be as good a weapon as a broomstick.

      I might be wrong of course, it's been known to happen :)

    3. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge
      Coat

      One word to explain them all

      midi-chlorians

      1. Michael Habel Silver badge

        Re: One word to explain them all

        midi-chlorians

        Didn't it just just pass its 30th anniversary recently?

    4. sisk Silver badge
      Coat

      Not to mention the fact that lightsabers are HOT. They're hot enough to cauterize the wounds they make instantly, to melt blast doors, and to scorch pretty much anything they cut through. For that matter they don't really 'cut' so much as instantly melt a microscopic path through whatever they're used on. That's how hot they are.

      This light-matter stuff, on the other hand, sounds like it's cold. And by that I mean superconductor range temperatures. Which is pretty much the opposite of a lightsaber.

      Mine's the one with the Star Wars Encyclopedia in one pocket and the empty address book in the other.

    5. Captain DaFt

      One way I figured to build an actual light sabre would use a laser that, when focused, would be powerful enough to heat air to plasma.

      Then using a piezoelectric lens so that the focal point would be swept back and forth to generate the 'blade'.

      It'd look like a light sabre, burn through stuff, and make the crackling and vroom sounds.

      Unfortunately, sword fights wouldn't work, the 'blades' would pass through each other.

      Two major drawbacks:

      The handle would need to be hooked up to a rather unwieldy power source and cooling air supply. You'd look like you were dragging a vacuum cleaner around by the hose.

      Air tends to produce some nasty to breath compounds at that temperature, you'd need to wear a respirator to use it!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Air tends to produce some nasty to breath compounds at that temperature, you'd need to wear a respirator to use it!"

        Umm, like Darth Vader?

      2. Wzrd1

        "The handle would need to be hooked up to a rather unwieldy power source and cooling air supply."

        Cooling air supply? Highly inefficient. I'd use a liquid coolant.

        Since the air is already becoming unbreathable due to ozone, might as well use anhydrous ammonia for the coolant. ;)

      3. sisk Silver badge

        The handle would need to be hooked up to a rather unwieldy power source and cooling air supply. You'd look like you were dragging a vacuum cleaner around by the hose.

        Canonically the first lightsabers (a few thousand years before Exar Kun and something like ten or fifteen thousand years before the movies) had a bulky backpack power supply about the size of a vacuum cleaner and a fat power cable going to the handle, so you're on the right track.

        *Yes, I truly am sad enough to know that much about the history of the Star Wars universe. As I've mentioned before I had way too much time on my hands when I was younger. This is just further proof of the fact.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        hooked up to a rather unwieldy power source

        I am sure I read in some Star Wars wiki that the first light sabers actually had to be tethered to a belt mounted power source ;-)

    6. Wzrd1

      "Personally I've always considered light sabres to be magnetically confined plasma."

      Briefly considered that back in the 1980's. Then, I considered how magnetic fields don't maintain annular confinement beyond a magnetic coil.

      Then, I considered multiple standing waves and a holographic reflector at the point...

      Finally, I considered it a matter of, "To hell with that idiocy. A blaster puts out a greater volume of fire."

      1. Suricou Raven

        A magnetic field can be shaped with a stream of high-energy charge particles. Think of the way the earth's field is distorted by the solar wind. You'd need a ridiculous amount of energy in the particles to a shape a field that strong, though. It certainly wouldn't be portable.

      2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Only a fool brings a lightsabre to a blaster fight ...

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Only a fool brings a lightsabre to a blaster fight

          And only a jedi brings a lightsaber to a blaster fight and is the only one to walk away from it

          1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: Only a fool brings a lightsabre to a blaster fight

            And only a marketing professional brings an EMP grenade and a slingshot to a blaster/lightsaber fight and walks away victorious :)

  7. Mike Moyle Silver badge

    Crystals made of light...

    .... Could they be made to work as gates? Optical computing in its ultimate form.

    1. JetSetJim Silver badge

      Re: Crystals made of light...

      More like gates on the end of footballers driveways for the ultimate bling

    2. Wzrd1

      Re: Crystals made of light...

      ".... Could they be made to work as gates? Optical computing in its ultimate form."

      You think too small. Gates and loads more. Think entire circuits, when holographic and magnetic techniques shape it.

  8. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

    Not so similar...

    Surely an "object" made of "solidified" light would not leak visible photons?

  9. Qwelak
    Coat

    If this guy is Lukin ...

    does he have a father called Anake

    I'll get me Jedi robe

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: If this guy is Lukin ...

      That would be an accidental inon exchange.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "wholly out of light"

    ... yeah - wholly out of light that is strongly coupled to rubidium atoms. So not /only/ out of light, which is what is strongly implied by "wholly out of light".

    I look forward to the Star Wars pre-pre-pre-prequels where proto-jedi whack each other over the head with clubs made out of ultracold-atom vacuum systems. :-)

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: "wholly out of light"

      The only way you get light to not travel at lightspeed is to make it interact with something. E.g. in water, visible light interacts with the water molecules, and it slows by about 30% (hence the refractive index of 1.5). To make light really slow, you have to get it to interact very strongly - in this case, using a specific frequency of light tuned to specific transitions in carefully managed rubidium atoms.

      This "slow light" therefore, is a rather misleading name - it isn't just light - it's a strongly coupled light-matter system, which some would prefer to call a polariton.

      I can therefore only assume the down votes were for the poor quality joke.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: "wholly out of light"

        Of course, you could always expose photons to a strong thaumic field... that would slow it down very much.

    2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: "wholly out of light"

      "... the Star Wars pre-pre-pre-prequels ..."

      Don't even joke about such things!!

      I'll have nightmares for weeks now ...

  11. erikj

    Very disappointed there's no picture

    But with gleeful pitch copy like "It's not an inapt analogy to compare this to light sabers," young Lukin has a future in rubidium marketing.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "one day even be used to create complex three-dimensional structures – such as crystals – wholly out of light."

    So... a working holodeck too? Splendid.

  13. Barracoder

    Finally!

    Now where is my hoverboard?

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Finally!

      "Now where is my hoverboard?"

      Actually the technology for that should have arrived about a decade ago, when scientists worked out the genetics of the "flagellum motor," and how to tweak it so it could be mounted to a framework.

      1 motor generates about 1 nano Newton of force.

      stick about 1000 billion of them on a framework (that's about the size of a full stop on a page), supply regularly with ATP and hey presto you have lift off..

      The control problem (bit like the Segway but much tougher) is left as an exercise.

      1. Suricou Raven

        Re: Finally!

        They only generate that much force when immersed in a liquid. Wouldn't work in air.

        Could maybe use it for underwater propulsion though. Like those diver-tug thingies, but running off sugar and entirely silent.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Happy

          Re: Finally!

          "They only generate that much force when immersed in a liquid. Wouldn't work in air."

          And you know this because...?

          I'll also point out that if their air thrust is 1/1000 that of a liquid then you'd need about 1000x more of them.

          So enough full stops to be visible on the base of your board.

          In chemical synthesis people deal in moles of a substance.

          1 mole => 6x10^23 units (atoms or molecules).

          100Terra motors is not that big a number.

  14. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Facepalm

    These midichloridians are resistant to multiple antibiotics!

    "The physics of what's happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies"

    We don't see no physics happening in the movies, only cool medieval magic in the first tirlogy, and senseless rationalising crud in the followup.

    1. The Indomitable Gall

      Re: These midichloridians are resistant to multiple antibiotics!

      Medieval magic? There's very little of that. A few understated psychic techniques based more on eastern mythology than medieval Europe, plus an old man with electric hands.

  15. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    So why doesn't starlight freeze solid before it reaches us?

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Because it doesn't go through a lot of ultracold rubidium, Einstein.

  16. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    "Here we demonstrate a quantum nonlinear medium inside which individual photons travel as massive particles with strong mutual attraction, such that the propagation of photon pairs is dominated by a two-photon bound state"

    This is actually the same idea that says that particles get their rest mass from interaction with the surrounding mediumvacuum, via the Higgs field.

    Particular applications of this technique include all-optical switching, deterministic photonic quantum logic and the generation of strongly correlated states of light

    Hell yeah. That sounds useful at least.

  17. frank ly Silver badge

    As I understand it (if i can read properly, etc) ....

    ... the photons are not so much 'bound together' but are constrained to act in a certain way due to some fundamental requirement involving allowed energy levels in what is some kind of quantum solid (the ultra cold rubidium). The overall effect is that they have to hold hands inside the rubidium 'crystal' I think a similar thing happens with Cooper pairs of elecrons in a superconductor. Life is never simple is it?

    1. d3rrial
      Paris Hilton

      Re: As I understand it (if i can read properly, etc) ....

      Think of it as a dry-dock for a ship? Once they leave the rubidium the structure will collapse and the photons will carry on travelling on their own again. The point is: Is it possible to construct a structure complex enough, that the structure would "survive" exiting the rubidium and remain in its "shape"

  18. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    A neat application of RJ Jones "The other way around principle."

    Instead of using light to shepherd particles, vice versa. And the article even lists some IT uses as well.

    I've always wondered why no one seems to have gone the other way and built complex molecules using this technique. I'm sure there are some syntheses that have such poor yields (many steps and no good catalyst for example) that it would actually pay to do it this way.

    Sadly I think the synthetic chemists don't talk to the kinds of physicists who do this sort of thing much :(

    Thumbs up for a clever hack and hopefully many new applications.

    1. Fink-Nottle

      Re: A neat application of RJ Jones "The other way around principle."

      A synthesis would have to have an awfully poor yield indeed to justify building the product molecules one-by-one in some sort of cryo workbench.

      Nano bots (or midichloridians) on the other hand ...

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Happy

        Re: A neat application of RJ Jones "The other way around principle."

        "A synthesis would have to have an awfully poor yield indeed to justify building the product molecules one-by-one in some sort of cryo workbench."

        I think you'll find that's a misconception.

        In this context "temperature" is a measure of how fast molecules move. Normal atoms move at 100s to 1000s of m/s. Historically lasers of the right frequency have been fired at Rubidium vapour and the atoms have slowed down. They are still a vapour (most people would call a vapourized metal "hot") but their "temperature" is close to 0 K.

        Low synthetic yield compounds are the obvious candidates but also "impossible" molecules.

        A classic which AFAIK remains unmade is N8. That's a Nitrogen ring with 8 atoms.

        Believed to be capable of storing as much energy as liquid Hydrogen/Oxgen can release in burning, it is one of a class of "highly energetic materials."

        Yes Nanotechnological "mechanosynthesis" would be the great hope for (low cost high volume) mfg.

        But "assemblers" seem to remain as far away as ever.

        Unless you happen to have a reliable controllable reciprocating linear actuator that can be mounted to a "molecular scaffolding"?

        .You could build a lot of stuff with such a combination.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      Oops. That should have been "R.V. Jones."

      As described in his book "Instruments and experiences," but attributed to the son of Charles Darwin.

      An interesting read if you want to be able manipulate objects to the nm scale before the AFM was invented.

  19. jubtastic1

    Jubtastic's Razor

    If the published paper is so littered with clickbait that the media doesn't have to add any, prepare yourself for a big disappointment.

  20. Don Jefe

    The name of the research center leaves a bit to be desired. Ultracold Atoms should be Ultracool Atoms. The implications are, well, just cooler.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      London has a University of Excellence.

      Later, dudes.

  21. joanbee

    Not so much a light-saber as a shipstone

    This is light in a basic form that can be picked up and transported. What sort of information or power density could be developed from this? If you get enough energy density into this and release it at one time, would it move the crystalline storage up above the ground state? Could you make it lase when it reverts to ground state? I want my blaster...

    1. Red Bren
      Coat

      Re: Not so much a light-saber as a shipstone

      Blaster? So uncivilised...

  22. Robert Heffernan
    Headmaster

    Lite Saber?

    Just going out on a limb here guys....

    What if the "Light" in Light Sabre really meant it's a Weight-Reduced version of a previous "Sabre" hand held weapon iteration?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lite Saber?

      I believe you may be on dangerous ground here, the Emperor lost a Ya Mama fight with Luke using a very similar suggestion, that being 'Ya mama's so stupid she thought a light saber meant it had less calories!'

      /Robot Chicken

  23. TheTimC

    So ....

    Without reading all the details, if this is matter made out of photons, I'm guessing it wouldn't radiate photons, therefore wouldn't glow like a light saber? What colour would it be I wonder? I guess that depends on what colour light it reflects? Would matter made of light reflect light at all? If it doesn't reflect light and is actually cold, maybe we should call it a Dark Saber.

    And when it is eventually released, will it just be made of metal or will it come in multiple colours?

  24. BoB91210

    Does this mean soon i can finally buy that forcefield door Star Trek promised me

  25. ISYS

    Straight in at No1 on my Christmas list!

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is astonishing.

    I'm surprised that jake hasn't already been here and done this... He might have. Have you?

  27. fLaMePrOoF

    Score 2 for Roddenberry / Star Trek - first it was the warp drive, and now 'photonics'...

    Just waiting for a working holodeck...

  28. Trevor 3

    Let me get this in my head.

    Light is rebounding off a surface....lets say....a shed.

    It hits this layer of super-cooled Rubidium in a transparent case and comes to an abrupt halt.

    I am standing this side of the Rubidium layer.

    Do I now have an "invisible" shed?

    (yeah I know it'd block all light from everywhere not just the shed so you'd get a big black square where the rubidium is - but I still can't see the shed right?)

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Let me get this in my head.

      There are simpler ways to stop the light reflecting off your shed from reaching your eyes. Note that we do not refer to them as "invisibility".

      When I stand on the opposite side of my house from my shed, the light reflecting off my shed (in my direction) hits the side of the house and heads off in various1 directions. I have no visual way to determine whether that light was reflected, refracted, or absorbed (as indeed some of it is); it doesn't get to me, and that's all that matters.

      And, of course, said super-cooled Rubidium has this nifty effect on particular wavelengths, not on all of your common-or-garden-variety light.

      1Insofar as my house is covered in a diffusing layer, which I quaintly refer to as "paint".

  29. Rogue Jedi

    build your own "Lightsaber"

    you can make realistic looking lightsabers unfortunately they are not capable of cutting through anything but can be used for dueling, a quick webserch should turn up several online shops offering the parts, or indeed assembeled non lethal (unless you hit someone over the head with the heavy metal handle) light sabre type objects

  30. Frogmelon

    LOL

    Maybe that's what dark matter is... frozen light :p

  31. Kharkov
    Trollface

    As usual Halo got there first...

    Light sabers? Pfft!

    Give me a bridge made of light I can drive my 'hog across & then you've got something...

    Ah Halo Series, is there anything you don't know...?

  32. crisis

    So if we can give light Mass...

    ..does this mean we can use it to push something close to the speed of light?

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019