Though Einstein put his foot down and demanded that nothing can move faster than light, a new device developed at the University of Rochester may let you outpace a beam by putting your foot down on the gas pedal. At 127 miles per hour, the light in the new device travels more than 5 million times slower than normal as it passes through a ruby just a few centimeters long.
Instead of the complex, room-filling mechanisms previously used to slow light, the new apparatus is small and, in the words of its creator, "ridiculously easy to implement." Such a simple design will likely pave the way for slow light, as it is called, to move from a physical curiosity to a useful telecommunications tool. The research is being published in this weeks Physical Review Letters.
The new technique uses a laser to "punch a hole" in the absorption spectrum of a common ruby at room temperature, and a second laser shines through that hole at the greatly reduced speed. A recent successful attempt to slow light to these speeds used a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), a state of matter existing 459 degrees below zero Fahrenheit where all atoms act in unison like a single, giant atom. The laser shining through the BEC was slowed to 38 miles per hour, but the system had enormous drawbacks, not the least of which was that the equipment needed to create the BEC wouldnt fit in the average living room, and the created BEC itself was little bigger than the head of a pin.
Jonathan Sherwood | EurekAlert!
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