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A team of scientists has successfully measured particles of light being "squeezed," in an experiment that had been written off in physics textbooks as impossible to observe.

Squeezing is a strange phenomenon of quantum physics. It creates a very specific form of light which is "low-noise" and is potentially useful in technology designed to pick up faint signals, such as the detection of gravitational waves.

The standard approach to squeezing light involves firing an intense laser beam at a material, usually a non-linear crystal, which produces the desired effect.

For more than 30 years, however, a theory has existed about another possible technique. This involves exciting a single atom with just a tiny amount of light. The theory states that the light scattered by this atom should, similarly, be squeezed.

Unfortunately, although the mathematical basis for this method -- known as squeezing of resonance fluorescence -- was drawn up in 1981, the experiment to observe it was so difficult that one established quantum physics textbook despairingly concludes: "It seems hopeless to measure it."

So it has proven -- until now. In the journal Nature, a team of physicists report that they have successfully demonstrated the squeezing of individual light particles, or photons, using an artificially constructed atom, known as a semiconductor quantum dot. Thanks to the enhanced optical properties of this system and the technique used to make the measurements, they were able to observe the light as it was scattered, and proved that it had indeed been squeezed.

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