So I have a liquid that absorbs light, and then releases it when impacted/surface tension broken.

I'm debating on if I should just follow Sanderson’s First Law of Magics:

An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

and Arthur C. Clarke's law:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

and just not bother explaining it. Or if there is some way that it could be possible without using 'magic'.

While having fantastic elements, I'd like it to be at least scientifically plausible.

A few possibilities I can see:

  1. The liquid slows light down to a crawl/stop
  2. The liquid refracts the light infinitely so that it can't escape
  3. The liquid's surface tension has some property where light can pass through from the ouside, but reflects from the inside. Like an infinity mirror.

The technology level is quite a bit beyond where we are at. Things like replacing cells with artificial cells made of nanobots, room temperature superconductors, brain/machine interfaces, interdimensional travel using wormholes or something similar are all possible. There are a few entities that are effectively post singularity.

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    $\begingroup$ Should it re-emit the "same" light that it captures, or can it absorb light energy and then convert that energy back into light at some other time? $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Mar 27 '15 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @KSmarts I would like it to have the same spectrum if possible, without 6000K temperatures. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Mar 27 '15 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ Assuming I understand Sanderson’s First Law and Arthur C. Clarke's law correctly, if you decide to "just not bother explaining it", then those two laws taken together would mean you would be greatly limited in your ability to solve conflict with this particular technology. $\endgroup$ – Ajedi32 Mar 27 '15 at 19:06

The molecules of the liquid are naturally in a crystalline matrix that perfectly reflects photons within it, trapping them. When the liquid is shocked or the surface is disrupted, the crystalline matrix loses its symmetry and the photons shoot out in all directions.

  • $\begingroup$ That was my initial guess. Realistically, a liquid crystal is a state of matter more than a specific kind of matter. But I could see a specific molecule being controlled by a magnetic field (or more fantastic mecanic) to create that kind of crystal. $\endgroup$ – 3C273 Mar 27 '15 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ "Crystalline" may not be the right word in my answer. I was just picturing a more organized, symmetrical structure of the molecules. And now thinking about it, that would probably NOT be a liquid, which must be somewhat chaotic in order to "flow" (I think). So maybe when it's at rest it becomes semisolid, like a pile of ping-pong balls, but it can also become chaotic and flow as a liquid does, like that same pile of ping-pong balls. In the flowing state it doesn't have the symmetry & order so it releases the trapped photons. $\endgroup$ – BrettFromLA Mar 27 '15 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ Just to point out something. A "crystal" is just an systematic organisation of the atoms. So I think your answer is perfectly right by using the word crystal. $\endgroup$ – 3C273 Mar 27 '15 at 23:17

What you're describing sounds something like a Bose-Einstein condensate. Basically think of cooling photons (light particles) to a point very close to absolute zero. It seems like this is more like a gas than a liquid, but with adding some of the element of handwavium, it could work for your purposes.

Also, take a look at this article:

However, in this latest study, researchers switched on two control beams which created an interference pattern that behaves like a stack of mirrors.

As the regenerated signal pulse tries to continue on its way through the glass cylinder, the photons bounce back and forth, but the overall signal pulse remains stationary. The light beam was essentially frozen.

The researchers were able to keep the photons trapped like this for about 10-20 microseconds.

Your liquid could be some form of this substance.

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    $\begingroup$ While 20 microseconds is a really long time for photons, it's not really enough to be practical. Also, a Bose-Einstein condensate is neither gas nor liquid, it is a separate state of matter. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Mar 27 '15 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ @KSmarts The OP wanted a way to explain his liquid in a scientifically plausible way. Yes BEC exists in a separate state, but depending on what you condensate it is gaseous or a superfluid. 20 microseconds is not practical, but it is plausible he could explain his light battery using this technique. Consider that article is from 2003. In 2013, researchers using similar methods froze a beam of light for one minute. In 10 years, they were able to increase the efficiency by a factor of 3,000,000. $\endgroup$ – Seth Mar 27 '15 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Seth it's not a matter of futurism. The important fact here is that an Einstein-Bose Condensate is based on a specific interaction of bosons under specific conditions. Its not like a computer chip where you can just assume it will become better with time. This wont be possible (as a room temp liquid) unless you rewrite the laws of quantum mechanics. IE, there is no handwavium. $\endgroup$ – James Watkins Mar 29 '15 at 6:13

First of all, your three explanations don't work (EDIT: very well).

  • Light slowing down inside the liquid. This might be plausible, but then you will have a difficult time trying to explain why the liquid allows light to escape upon interaction. Slowing down light introduces some bad complexity, like what frequency will the light be when it is "freed"? The same as when it entered? This would be very difficult to explain.

  • Refracting/Reflecting light infinitely. EDIT: OK, maybe this is technically possible. But the technical implementation would require such a level of precision and complexity (especially considering the fluid aspect) that it's completely impractical.

The answer is easy. These are tiny bacteria-like organisms floating around in some fluid. These organisms can either be alien or engineered, it doesn't really matter.

  • Nano particles can be very small. Try not to think of these as "little robots", they can be more like tiny bacteria with engineered traits.
  • You know about fireflies right? Same concept. Light can be stored by chemicals in vacuoles, and photosynthesis could be a viable mechanism for producing the energy required to create the proteins necessary for engineering these light-producing chemicals. They could also be living off heat, bugs that fall into the sticky goop, or whatever.
  • If going down the "alien lifeform" path, you could easily say that the flash of light is a defense mechanism to scare off animals who might consider eating the fluid. For the engineered path, it really depends on your storyline. It could be a military weapon of some sort (to prevent ground troops from sneaking at night), a practical joke (the Flash Goop, Inc factory had a leak).
  • Scientists today have been playing with the genes necessary for engineering these organisms. There's even a startup where you can pre-order glow-in-the-dark plants.
  • It would certainly flow like water. The engineered bacteria may be suspended in some other liquid, the properties of which you are free to define (viscosity, flammability, etc).
  • $\begingroup$ The OP mentions that nanobots/machine exist and seem to be decently powerful. They might work for what you propose. As well as being "programmable" to get different wavelength. That being said +1 for " Try not to think of these as "little robots"". $\endgroup$ – 3C273 Mar 27 '15 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ Also, while there would be loss during reflection, it might not be 100% impossible considering the level of technology that the question hints. It would be a bigger stretch than your main idea. $\endgroup$ – 3C273 Mar 27 '15 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ @3C273 sure, not impossible, but entirely impractical. For any technology there is some entity who spent the resources to create it. Why take on the extra complexity to preserve the actual light rays, when other solutions are much simpler? $\endgroup$ – James Watkins Mar 29 '15 at 5:49
  • $\begingroup$ This one's not bad... The charging with sunlight was kinda important when I first had the idea, but It's been a while and maybe it's not any more. Same with it being sunlight versus other light. I have a creature that doesn't like sun light, but didn't just want it to be a UV thing, and didn't want fire or lightbulb light to be a problem. I could be stuck on the idea. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Mar 30 '15 at 4:57
  • $\begingroup$ @JamesWatkins I think we agree on the facts in the end. Impractical, but theorerically possinle. If AndyD273 (nice name btw) has a reason for that particular technology to exist, it could be usable. But it wouldn't realistically happen. $\endgroup$ – 3C273 Mar 30 '15 at 15:36

I would say that it just stores energy, it keeps trying to collect it but it has a trigger to release it. Have you ever seen a Supersaturated liquid? They use them in mitten warmers and heating pads, a physical shock will set it off, and it releases heat into its surroundings. Instead of heat it could be light!

Being able to control the reaction would make it more useful.

edt: to replace super cooled with supersatureated, since that was correct terminology. Supercooling can have a similar reaction, where when it 'freezes' it gives off extra heat to crystallize.

  • $\begingroup$ This isn't a bad idea. Is it realistic to have it give off a full spectrum similar to the sun? If you wanted to hurt a creature that was sensitive to sun light, but not artificial light sources for instance. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Mar 27 '15 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ Handwarmers and the like are supersaturated solutions, not supercooled liquids. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Mar 27 '15 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel chemistry.about.com/od/chemistryglossary/a/supersatdef.htm seems to say they are the same. Can you give me references? I have no problem learning more about it. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Mar 27 '15 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 With magic sure! I was trying to give you known physical mechanism you could exploit $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Mar 27 '15 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ @bowlturner That page is incorrect. Wikipedia provides excellent definitions: Supersaturation is a state of a solution that contains more of the dissolved material than could be dissolved by the solvent under normal circumstances. Supercooling is the process of lowering the temperature of a liquid or a gas below its freezing point without it becoming a solid. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Mar 27 '15 at 16:22

There are several very good scientific answers. However, another point of view would be to read the interaction of Sanderson's First Law and Clarke's law slightly differently. What if we use Clarke's law to substitute "sufficiently advanced technology" for "magic"

Sanderson-Clarke's law of technology: An author’s ability to solve conflict with sufficiently advanced technology is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said sufficiently advanced technology.

I think the approach used here of trying to find a scientific rationale for why it works is useful. Science is a great way to give readers an understanding. However, while you are putting your story together, remember that you are free to augment such scientific explanations with other ways to encourage understanding (such as looking at how the characters react to the technology).


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