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Photons on roundabout route could get caught in action

Proposed twist on double-slit experiment could identify light that weaves in and out

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4:15pm, October 5, 2014
triple slit experiment

MEANDERING LIGHT  A new study quantifies the amount of light that takes a circuitous route (such as the purple one) through three slits. Traditionally physicists have accounted for paths involving only one slit per photon (green).

Light sometimes prefers to take the scenic route. Now, a new twist on a classic experiment could trace photons’ wandering ways. In the Sept. 19 Physical Review Letters, researchers propose a version of the double-slit experiment that encourages light to take weaving paths before striking a screen.

It’s no surprise that the double-slit experiment is so popular in physics classrooms. The experiment encapsulates the wonder of quantum mechanics. It also is simple to execute, requiring only a light source, a screen and a plate with two thin parallel slits. Illuminate the slits and a pattern of bright and dark bands shows up on the screen. The striped pattern suggests that light travels in waves that interfere with each other behind the slits.

The strange part comes when the experimenter turns down the intensity of light so low that light strikes the screen as individual particles, or

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