The lightsaber molecule: Light-matter is real

To hell with your demands for a flying car. Scientists have been busy with something more important. Behold, the lightsaber molecule.

It’s just like this. Except, not really. This is not the explanation you’re looking for, is it? (Via Lucasfilm / “The Empire Strikes Back”)

Patience, padawan — we’re getting there. You see, only in Hollywood could beams of light stick together. In the real world, they simply pass through one another. (Via Flickr / Emmanuel_D.Photography)

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Well, that was the conventional wisdom before one physics professor from Harvard and one from MIT teamed up. Until now, light-matter has existed only in theory.

At the Center for Ultracold Atoms, Mikhail Lukin and Vladan Vuletic shot photons through a cloud of rubidium atoms in near-absolute-zero temperatures.

A writer for says, “The key was to create a special medium in which photons can interact strongly enough that they attract one another as if they have mass.”

Those photons “bumped into the atoms in a way similar to the way regular matter would. In the process, the photons slowed down enough to bump into each other and bond into molecules.” (Via CNN)

Gizmodo’s Adam Clark Estes explains this is what’s known as the Rydberg blockade, which states “atoms neighboring an atom that’s been excited … cannot be excited to the same degree as the initial atom.”

So instead of going on forever, the beams of light bond together. Yes, like a lightsaber. But they’ve amassed like, way less than this much — so, a subatomic amount of the stuff.

But this matter still matters, size aside. The letter, published in the journal Nature, indicates the observation opens the door to potentially groundbreaking research in quantum computing.

There you have it. Real science. It’s OK, “Star Wars” geeks — our new light-matter master Lukin says this discovery isn’t exactly as far, far away from science fiction as you might think.

“It’s not an in-apt analogy to compare this to light sabers. … The physics of what’s happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies.” (Via

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