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First Photo Ever of Light as Both Particle and Wave [VIDEO]

Mar 02, 2015 05:05 PM EST

For the first time ever, researchers have managed to capture on camera light behaving as both a particle and a wave, a new study describes.

According to quantum mechanics, light can behave simultaneously as a particle or a wave. When ultraviolet (UV) light hits a metal surface, it causes an emission of electrons. Albert Einstein was the first to explain this "photoelectric" effect, suggesting that light - thought to only be a wave - is also a stream of particles.

Many previous studies have proven both of these aspects of light in separate experiments; however, for years scientists have been trying to directly observe light's dual behavior at the same time. Now, thanks to a novel approach by a team from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, researchers have finally been successful.

"This experiment demonstrates that, for the first time ever, we can film quantum mechanics - and its paradoxical nature - directly," researcher Fabrizio Carbone at EPFL, who led the study, said in a statement. "Being able to image and control quantum phenomena at the nanometer scale like this opens up a new route towards quantum computing."

Using an advanced electron microscope - one of only two on the planet - the EPFL team has generated a single snapshot of light behaving simultaneously as both a wave and a stream of particles. (Scroll to read on...)

[Credit: Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)]

The experiment involves firing a pulse of 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.

By demonstrating this dual nature of light for the first time, researchers hope their breakthrough can lead to advancements in quantum computing.

The results were published in the journal Nature Communications.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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