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Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science Makes New Discovery About Photons

They discovered that when two photons interact (which rarely happens), they create swirling patterns called vortices.

Weizmann Institute Photons

From bottom left, clockwise: Dr. Lee Drori, Tomer Danino Zohar, Dr. Alexander Poddubny, Prof. Ofer Firstenberg, Dr. Gal Winer, Dr. Eilon Poem and Dr. Bankim Chandra Das
(Weizmann Institute)

Scientists from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science say they made an amazing discovery – a previously unknown type of vortex, uncovered when they studied photons in quantum computing. When photons collide, they create vortices.

While searching for better ways to use light particles (photons) for quantum computers, the Weizmann Institute scientists stumbled upon something surprising. They discovered that when two photons interact (which rarely happens), they create swirling patterns called vortices. This finding not only sheds light on how vortices work, but it might also help achieve the original goal of improving quantum computer data processing.

Photons are the basic units of light. They are elementary particles that exhibit wave-particle duality, meaning they can behave like particles or waves depending on the situation. They are essential to many areas of physics, including optics, quantum mechanics, and particle physics.

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Vortices are swirling regions of fluid or gas that rotate around a central axis. They can be found in many natural phenomena, such as whirlpools, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Vortices can also be created artificially, such as in the wake of an airplane wing.

Vortices can have a number of different effects on their surroundings. For instance, they can draw in objects that are nearby, and they can also transport energy and momentum. In some cases, vortices can even be destructive, as in the case of a tornado.

Normally, light particles (photons) don’t interact directly. But scientists figured out a way to make them chat. They built a special chamber with a vacuum except for a tiny, dense cloud of rubidium atoms in the center. By squeezing lots of photons through this cloud, they could see if the light particles affected each other in any way.

The study was conducted by Dr. Lee Drori, Dr. Bankim Chandra Das, Tomer Danino Zohar and Dr. Gal Winer from Prof. Ofer Firstenberg’s laboratory at the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Physics of Complex Systems Department and was published in Science.

“When the photons pass through the dense gas cloud, they send a number of atoms into electronically excited states known as Rydberg states,” Firstenberg explains. “In these states, one of the electrons in the atom starts moving in an orbit that is 1,000 times wider than the diameter of an unexcited atom. This electron creates an electric field that influences a huge number of adjacent atoms, turning them into a kind of imaginary ‘glass ball.’”

Imagine swirling a spoon in your coffee. The water creates a ring-shaped whirlpool, even though you only see the top. Light can do something similar! Scientists recently discovered that when three photons (light particles) interact in a special way, they create a 3D twisting pattern – a kind of light whirlpool. This finding is like finding a new type of smoke ring, but made of light! It shows how light behaves in surprising ways and might even help us understand light whirlpools in nature better.



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