Scientists are just showing off now. Of all the ridiculously cool stuff they’ve been up to lately, like making self-assembling, flying robots and anti-matter guns, they can now levitate diamonds using lasers.
Unbeknownst to most of us, light has the power to move particles, especially if focused to a tiny point. Scientists from the University of Rochester published their findings from an experiment in which a laser light exerted a pull on diamond nanocrystals. The process is called “laser trapping,” and the University of Rochester scientists were able to use this method to levitate nanodiamonds in free space.
They sprayed an aerosol of dissolved nanodiamonds into a small chamber, where they moved directly into the laser’s path. “It takes a couple of squirts, and in a few minutes we have a trapped nanodiamond,” researcher Levi Neukirch said. “Once a diamond wanders into the trap, we can hold it for hours.”
They were also able to use a second laser to get the nanodiamonds to emit light at certain frequencies. Defects inside the diamond crystals helped them measure the diamonds’ photoluminescence. This could be the beginning of research into how the light emissions of substances such as nanodiamonds might be used to extract information encoded in the vibrations of the diamonds. Optomechanical resonators are one example of such a system in which light can control vibrations. In a lot of ways, this sounds similar to the ability to store and retrieve information from data crystals.
One of the goals of their experiment is to understand how friction works on a nanoscale, which is important for the future of our ever-shrinking technology. A benefit of levitating particles is that it reduces friction and heat, which could help preserve an object’s “quantum coherence,” which is necessary for performing experiments.
Nano-optomechnical resonators could potentially sense and measure the tiniest movement of plates, mirrors, or other parts used in microchips, ultimately leading to a better understanding of friction, computing, and quantum information.
This experiment demonstrates one more reason nanotechnology is the wave of the future — just don’t tell the jewelers.