An elusive kind of fundamental particle modeled in a beam of light

Scientists demonstrated how skyrmions can be measured in three dimensions.

In a new study, scientists discovered a real system to demonstrate the behavior of skyrmions. They have come up with a model of an elusive fundamental particle called a skyrmion in a beam of light.

Sixty years ago, Professor Tony Skyrme, a mathematical physicist at the University of Birmingham, developed a system to demonstrate Skyrmion’s behavior. His system used the structure of spheres in 4-dimensional space to guarantee the indivisible nature of this elusive kind of fundamental particle in 3 dimensions.

Three-dimensional (3D) topological states resemble truly localized, particle-like objects in physical space. They even have gathered scientists’ attention as exotic textures in particle physics, cosmology, superfluids, and many other systems.

3D particle-like skyrmions have been investigated for over 50 years. However, despite this fact, 3D skyrmions have been seen very rarely in experiments. The most current research into skyrmions focuses on 2D analogs, which shows promise for new technologies.

In this new study, scientists, for the first time, have demonstrated how skyrmions can be measured in three dimensions.

They create the model by casting the standard description of light: polarization and phase- in terms of a sphere in 4-dimensional space, crucial to Skyrme’s original vision. This allowed them to design and engineer the Skyrmion field into a beam of laser light. Using advanced measurements, they determined the precise structure of the Skyrmion.

Dr. Danica Sugic from the School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Birmingham, said, “These objects are quite intricate, from a geometric point of view. They resemble a complex system of interlocking rings, with the whole forming a particle-like structure. What’s particularly interesting is the Skyrmion’s topological properties – they can be distorted, stretched or squeezed, but will not come apart. This robustness is one of the properties that scientists are most interested in exploiting.”

Professor Mark Dennis, who led the research, said“Skyrmions have intrigued and challenged physicists for many decades. Although we’re making good progress investigating skyrmions in 2D, we live in a 3D world. We need a system that can model a skyrmion in all its possible states in a way that could be measured. We realized that a beam of light could be harnessed for this purpose because we can closely control its properties and so use it as a platform to model our skyrmions. With this approach, we can start to understand these objects and realize their scientific potential truly.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Sugic, D., Droop, R., Otte, E. et al. Particle-like topologies in light. Nat Commun 12, 6785 (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-26171-5



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