First instrument built that can witness the passage of a light particle without absorbing it
Physicists have seen a single particle of light and then let it go on its way. The feat was possible thanks to a new technique that, for the first time, detects optical photons without destroying them. The technology could eventually offer perfect detection of photons, providing a boost to quantum communication and even biological imaging.
Plenty of commercially available instruments can identify individual light particles, but these instruments absorb the photons and use the energy to produce an audible click or some other signal of detection.
Quantum physicist Stephan Ritter and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, wanted to follow up on a 2004 proposal of a nondestructive method for detecting photons. Instead of capturing photons, this instrument would sense their presence, taking advantage of the eccentric realm of quantum mechanics in which particles can