A newly discovered light form could challenge what scientists know about properties of light and transform fiber optic technology.
Irish physicists were able to establish a light form that does not behave according to the recognized laws of angular momentum.
A light beam is measured by its angular momentum, which remains constant unless an external torque is applied. It was always believed that the angular momentum is an integer of Planck's constant.
However, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and CRANN Institute researchers were able to show that a new light form with an angular momentum half of Planck's constant exists.
Paul Eastham, the study's lead researcher and an assistant professor at TCD, said their experiment proved that properties of light, previously thought to be fixed, can actually be altered.
"A beam of light is characterized by its color or wavelength and a less familiar quantity known as angular momentum. Angular momentum measures how much something is rotating. For a beam of light, although travelling in a straight line, it can also be rotating around its own axis," explained Professor John Donegan from CRANN. "So when light from the mirror hits your eye in the morning, every photon twists your eye a little, one way or another."
For their experiment, the researchers used crystals to create a beam of light that appears as a screw-like structure. The team initially hoped to identify how to change the behavior of light for use in optical communications.
However, as they were analyzing the beam covered by the quantum mechanics theory, they realized that the angular momentum was not a whole number - a discovery that debunks established theories on angular momentum.
To test whether their observation was accurate, the team created a tool that would measure the angular momentum flow in the light beam and identify the flow variations due to quantum effects.
They found that small angular momentum alterations of every photon are possible.
CRANN director and co-researcher Stefano Sanvito said finding a new light form is indeed a breakthrough in the world of physics and science. However, more studies should be done to back up the recent discovery.
If a new light form truly exists, the fiber optic industry will greatly benefit by creating faster and more secure Internet connections. Just recently, Russian scientists were able to develop a long-distance quantum communication device that ensures the safe delivery of information.
The study is published in Science Advances.
Photo: Thomas Quine | Flickr