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Photo First: Light Captured As Both Particle and Wave

mpicpp sends word that scientists have succeeded in capturing the first-ever snapshot of the dual behavior of light. “It’s one of those enduring Zen koans of science that we’ve all grown up with: Light behaves as both a particle and a wave—at the same time. Einstein taught us that, so we’re all generally on board, but to actually understand what it means would require several Ph.D.s and a thorough understanding of quantum physics. What’s more, scientists have never been able to devise an experiment that documents light behaving as both a wave and a particle simultaneously. Until now. That’s the contention of a team of Swiss and American researchers, who say they’ve succeeded in capturing the first-ever snapshot of light’s dual behavior. Using an advanced electron microscope – one of only two on the planet – at the EPFL labs in Switzerland, the team has generated a kind of quantum photograph of light behaving as both a particle and a wave. The experiment involves firing laser light at a microscopic metallic nanowire, causing light to travel — as a wave — back and forth along the wire. When waves traveling in opposite directions meet, they form a “standing wave” that emits light itself — as particles. By shooting a stream of electrons close to the nanowire, the researchers were able to capture an image that simultaneously demonstrates both the wave-nature and particle-nature of light. ‘This experiment demonstrates that, for the first time ever, we can film quantum mechanics — and its paradoxical nature — directly,’ says lead researcher Fabrizio Carbone of EPFL, on the lab’s project page. The study is to be officially published this week in the journal Nature Communications.”

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