A team of researchers from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) has successfully demonstrated, for the first time, that it is possible to control the speed of light – both slowing it down and speeding it up – in an optical fiber, using off-the-shelf instrumentation in normal environmental conditions. Their results, to be published in the August 22 issue of Applied Physics Letters, could have implications that range from optical computing to the fiber-optic telecommunications industry.
On the screen, a small pulse shifts back and forth – just a little bit. But this seemingly unremarkable phenomenon could have profound technological consequences. It represents the success of Luc Thévenaz and his fellow researchers in the Nanophotonics and Metrology laboratory at EPFL in controlling the speed of light in a simple optical fiber. They were able not only to slow light down by a factor of three from its well – established speed c of 300 million meters per second in a vacuum, but theyve also accomplished the considerable feat of speeding it up – making light go faster than the speed of light.
This is not the first time that scientists have tweaked the speed of a light signal. Even light passing through a window or water is slowed down a fraction as it travels through the medium. In fact, in the right conditions, scientists have been able to slow light down to the speed of a bicycle, or even stop it altogether. In 2003, a group from the University of Rochester made an important advance by slowing down a light signal in a room-temperature solid. But all these methods depend on special media such as cold gases or crystalline solids, and they only work at certain well-defined wavelengths. With the publication of their new method, the EPFL team, made up of Luc Thévenaz, Miguel Gonzaléz Herraez and Kwang-Yong Song, has raised the bar higher still. Their all-optical technique to slow light works in off-the-shelf optical fibers, without requiring costly experimental set-ups or special media. They can easily tune the speed of the light signal, thus achieving a wide range of delays.
Luc Thevenaz | EurekAlert!
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