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Vintage photo of couple kissing in Paris

Quantum “Kisses” That Change the Color of the Air


The movement of electrons over small distances can change the color of space itself.

Researchers at the Nanophotonic Center at the University of Cambridge have discovered that the tiny spaces –smaller than a nanometer– between two pieces of metal suffer observable changes in color thanks to the movement of electrons around them.

In order to explain the phenomenon, Jeremy Baumberg, leader of the experimental research team, uses the metaphor of “the tension building between a flirtatious couple staring into each others eyes. As their faces get closer, the tension mounts, and only a kiss discharges this energy.” The nanophotonic kiss functions in much the same way, but the lovers (in this case the metals) never actually touch each other while the air between them changes color.

The mere idea that a metal can feel a sort of emotion as it approaches another metal, and mirrors it, adds to the vibrant belief in the “secret lives of objects.” Everything, in relation to another thing, is chemically modified (however slightly) in the interaction. It is as if the metals themselves, in a sort of alchemical impulse, wanted to kiss.

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