Scientists from Imperial College London have created the model for a new form of light that combines properties of electrons and photons. This is an artistic image of light trapped on the surface of a nanoparticle topological insulator. Vincenzo Giannini

In a development that could greatly help the study of quantum phenomena, scientists have created a theoretical model for a new form of light that combines the properties of photons and electrons. If turned into reality, the new light form could also be used to make electrical circuits which at present use electrons for conduction.

Scientists from Imperial College London published a study in the journal Nature Communications on Friday that shows “it is possible to create a new form of light by binding light to a single electron, combining the properties of both,” according to a statement issued by the college.

Light, which is made up of photons, usually interacts with a large number of electrons on the surface of whatever material it comes in contact with. For the study, researchers from Imperial used “a recently discovered class of materials known as topological inhibitors.” Combining that with “theoretical physics to model the behavior of light,” they found that light could interact with only one electron on the surface.

The coupling of a photon with a single electron would merge some of the properties of both the particles.

For instance, light, which normally travels in a straight line, would trace the surface of the material if it was bound to a single electron on it, following the electron’s path across the surface of the material. Conversely, electrons in an electrical circuit will normally stop when faced with a defect or imperfection in the conducting material, but with the aid of photons, “the electron would still be able to travel onwards.”

Dr. Vincenzo Giannini, one of the co-authors of the study, titled “Single-electron induced surface plasmons on a topological nanoparticle,” said in the statement: “The results of this research will have a huge impact on the way we conceive light. Topological insulators were only discovered in the last decade, but are already providing us with new phenomena to study and new ways to explore important concepts in physics.”

The process outlined in the research, which used a nanoparticle to build the model, can be scaled up, its authors contend. The study also discusses various potential applications of the new light form in the study of “quantum physical phenomena.” Such phenomena can currently be studied only when looking at really small subatomic particles or objects that have been super-cooled. The new model “could allow scientists to study these kinds of behaviour at room temperature.”