Researchers have created a new method for connecting particles using a laser that places rubidium atoms along a "lattice" of light; the finding could lead to the development of powerful quantum computing systems.

The research team paired a "lone atom of rubidium, a metal, with a single photon, or light particle," this allowed the atom and photon to switch to the quantum state of the particle, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) news release reported.

This method could allow for many interactions within a small space, and lead to powerful quantum computing possibilities.

"This is a major advance of this system," Vladan Vuletić, a professor in MIT's Department of Physics and Research Laboratory for Electronics (RLE), and a co-author of the paper, said in the news release. "We have demonstrated basically an atom can switch the phase of a photon. And the photon can switch the phase of an atom."

Photons can have two states of polarization; these states can be changed through atoms. The photons can also be changed from their "ground" state to their "excited" state this way. This could allow the photons to act as a "quantum switch" that transmits information. This finding could allow researchers to create a network that transmits quantum information quickly and efficiently.

"You can now imagine having several atoms placed there, to make several of these devices - which are only a few hundred nanometers thick, 1,000 times thinner than a human hair - and couple them together to make them exchange information," Vuletić said.

Quantum computing could allow for lightning-fast calculations by taking advantage of "qubits," which are particles existing in two places at once allowing them to contain more information.

Photons rarely interact with other particles, so they can be difficult to manipulate. In order to solve this problem the researchers used a "laser to place a rubidium atom very close to the surface of a photonic crystal cavity, a structure of light," the news release reported. The team used the strong attractive force between atoms to keep them in place.

"In some sense, it was a big surprise how simple this solution was compared to the different techniques you might envision of getting the atoms there," Vuletić said.

"The idea is to combine different things that have different strengths and weaknesses in such a way to generate something new," Vuletić said. "This is an advance in technology. Of course, whether this will be the technology remains to be seen."