Princeton researchers have managed to cause light to behave like a crystal within a specialized computer chip, according to a recent paper. This is the first time anyone has accomplished this effect in a lab.
Here's why it's so hard: Atoms can easily form solids, liquids, and gasses, because when they come into contact they push and pull on each other. That push and pull forms the underlying structure of all matter. Light particles, or photons, do not typically interact with one another, according to Dr. Andrew Houck, a professor of electrical engineering at Princeton and an author on the study. The trick of this research was forcing them to do just that.
"We build essentially an artificial atom, using lots of atoms acting in concert," Houck tells Popular Science, "What emerges is a quantum mechanical object that [at about half a millimeter] is visible on the classical scale."