Despite centuries of scientific scrutiny, the ways in which light and matter affect each other remain only partly understood. To get a look at the most fundamental of light-matter interactions, physicists have been trapping one atom and one photon together between tiny mirrors (SN: 3/18/00, p. 191: Available to subscribers at Photon-in-a-box slings atom into orbit). In such experiments in quantum physics, the photon and atom repeatedly merge and disengage, forming a blended entity of matter and light.
Now a U.S.-based research team and a Netherlands-Japan team are turning to an alternative experimental approach based on so-called artificial atoms: micrometer-scale structures made of metals that conduct electricity with no resistance. In a pair of independent reports in the Sept. 9 Nature, the teams present evidence that a microwave photon can merge with one of these artificial atoms and form a hybrid of light and matter.