To power all our modern devices we usually have to move a large number of electrons, but in some rare occasions just one electron can affect a hundred thousand other atoms.
This phenomenon has been modeled by scientists from Imperial College London. They discovered a special interaction between light and a single electron on a recently-discovered material called a topological insulator. The researchers witnessed photons and electrons bound together in a single entity with some shared properties.
The research, published in Nature Communications, observed that when interacting with a nanoparticle (a sphere about 10 nanometers across), light would stop moving in a straight line and instead would follow the same path as the electron. In the same way, the electron, which would normally be stopped by physical imperfections in the surface, moved forward with the help of light.
Scaling up these properties will allow for light-electron circuits that would be more sturdy and thus less susceptible to disruptions and material flaws.
“The results of this research will have a huge impact on the way we conceive light. Topological insulators were only discovered in the last decade, but are already providing us with new phenomena to study and new ways to explore important concepts in physics,” Dr Vincenzo Giannini said in a statement.
Topological insulators are a class of different materials with a common property: although their interiors are insulators, their surfaces can conduct electricity and are symmetric. These materials exhibit some curious quantum properties and researchers are investigating if these can be seen at room temperature and on a human scale.
For this reason, the researchers want to put this model into practice. This new light state should be detectable with current technology, and the team is currently working on experiments that should demonstrate that this state is very real and potentially very useful.