Physicists in Germany and the United States said on Wednesday they
have discovered an exotic new type of particle that they call a
quantum droplet, or dropleton.
Writing in the journal Nature, they said it behaves a bit like a
liquid droplet and described it as a quasiparticle - an amalgamation
of smaller types of particles.
The discovery, they added, could be useful in the development of
nanotechnology, including the design of optoelectronic devices.
These include things like the semiconductor lasers used in Blu-ray
The microscopic quantum droplet does not dawdle. In the physicists'
experiments using an ultra-fast laser emitting about 100 million
pulses per second, the quantum droplet appeared for only about 2.5
billionths of a second.
That does not sound like much, but the scientists said it is stable
enough for research on how light interacts with certain types of
A previously known example of a quasiparticle is the exciton, a
pairing of an electron and a "hole" - a place in the material's
energy structure where an electron could be located but is not.
The quantum droplet is made up of roughly five electrons and five
holes. It possesses some characteristics of a liquid, like having
ripples, the scientists said.
Quantum physics is a branch of physics that relates to events taking
place on the tiniest scale. It is essential in describing the
structure of atoms.
Particles are the basic building blocks of matter. They include
things like subatomic entities such as electrons, protons, neutrons
and quarks. Only rarely are new ones found.
The scientists in Germany worked with a team led by physicist Steven
Cundiff at JILA, a joint physics institute of the University of
Colorado at Boulder and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and
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It was in Boulder where the laser experiments were performed using a
semiconductor of the elements gallium and arsenic, revealing the new
particle, albeit fleetingly.
"Even though this happens so rapidly, it is still useful to
understand that it does happen," Cundiff said by email.
The scientists foresee practical value in the discovery.
"The effects that give rise to the formation of dropletons also
influence the electrons in optoelectronic devices such as laser
diodes," physicist Mackillo Kira of the University of Marburg in
Germany, one of the researchers, said by email.
Examples of optoelectronic devices include LED lights and
semiconductor lasers used in telecommunications and Blu-ray players.
"For example, the dropletons couple particularly strongly to quantum
fluctuations of light, which should be extremely useful when
designing lasers capable of encoding quantum information," Kira
(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Jan Paschal)
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