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Wave-Particle Duality Imaged for First Time

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 03:23PM

Even though Einstein is best known for his theories of relativity, it was his paper on the photoelectric effect that earned him his Nobel Prize. A central concept to this paper was that light exists as both a particle and a wave, which was actually a matter of debate for centuries as different experiments can show it as one or the other. That limitation of experiments to show either the wave or the particle nature has continued until recently as researchers at EPFL have finally designed an experiment that shows both.

To finally catch light as both wave and particle, the researchers turned to electrons to capture the image. First a laser pulse was fired at a nanowire, causing its electrons to become excited and radiate light around the wire as a standing wave. Next the researchers fired a beam of electrons near the wire, because as they pass through the light, they will speed up or slow down. The image the researchers took showed the standing light wave, confirming the wave nature, but at the same time showed quantized energy packets. This indicates that the electrons were interacting with photons, the quanta or particle of light.

This is the first time the paradoxical nature of quantum mechanics has been directly demonstrated by an experiment, and will definitely impact fundamental science. It could also have applications with future technologies, like quantum computers, with its ability to image and control quantum phenomena.



Source: Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

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