We are all familiar with the basic ways in which light interacts with matter, when light absorption causes atoms to move and creates heat, or when light gets absorbed by the outer electrons of atoms so that they move into energetically excited states, which is how electricity in solar cells is created. Common to both examples is that light is mainly used as an energy source, and it is easy to visualize. When scientists draw such light interactions into the energy diagram of say a molecule, they often draw little wavy arrows from one energy state to another.
But that’s the boring stuff. Far more interesting is that light can also strongly couple to matter, but without getting absorbed. The example I am discussing here is when the interaction between light and a molecule is so strong that it profoundly alters the molecule’s energy states themselves, and not merely lifts electrons from one state to another. In particular, what Thomas Ebbesen, Tal Schwartz, James Hutchison and colleagues at the University of Strasbourg have now shown is that such interactions could find exciting new applications: to control energy levels of molecules, and in this way to influence the kinetics of chemical reactions in a new way that creates many new possibilities.
To see how this looks in practice it is necessary to understand what the strong coupling between light and molecules means. First of all, to achieve the necessary strong coupling, it is necessary to create a strong feedback mechanism between light and matter. This can be done by squeezing the light field between two closely spaced mirrors, with the desired molecules in-between. In addition, the energy levels of the light field between the mirrors and one of the energy levels of the molecule need to match up. If all these conditions are fulfilled, then the energy state in question is split into two separated states (see figure). This is called Rabi splitting. The stronger the coupling, the larger the energy separation between the two states. Because of the beauty of quantum mechanics this doesn’t even require light to be present, the mirrors are enough.
More also here: http://tinyurl.com/9llu242