Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Reversing and accelerating the speed of light

24.07.2006
Ames Laboratory researchers use metamaterials to alter light's path, speed

Physicist Costas Soukoulis and his research group at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory on the Iowa State University campus are having the time of their lives making light travel backwards at negative speeds that appear faster than the speed of light. That, folks, is a mind-boggling 186,000 miles per second – the speed at which electromagnetic waves can move in a vacuum. And making light seem to move faster than that and in reverse is what Soukoulis, who is also an ISU Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said is “like rewriting electromagnetism.” He predicted, “Snell’s law on the refraction of light is going to be different; a number of other laws will be different.”

However, neither Soukoulis nor any other scientist involved in efforts to manipulate the direction and speed of light can do so with naturally occurring materials. The endeavor requires exotic, artificially created materials. Known as metamaterials, these substances can be manipulated to respond to electromagnetic waves in ways that natural materials cannot. Natural materials refract light, or electromagnetic radiation, to the right of the incident beam at different angles and speeds. However, metamaterials, also called left-handed materials, make it possible to refract light at a negative angle, so it emerges on the left side of the incident beam. This backward-bending characteristic of metamaterials allows enhanced resolution in optical lenses, which could potentially lead to the development of a flat superlens with the power to see inside a human cell and diagnose disease in a baby still in the womb.

The challenge that Soukoulis and other scientists face who work with metamaterials is to fabricate them so that they refract light negatively at ever smaller wavelengths, with the ultimate goal of making a metamaterial that refracts light at visible wavelengths and achieving the much-sought-after superlens. Admittedly, that goal is a ways off. To date, existing metamaterials operate in the microwave or far infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The near infrared region of the spectrum still lies between the microwave and visible regions, and the wavelengths become ever shorter moving along the electromagnetic spectrum to visible light. Correspondingly, to negatively refract light at these shorter wavelengths requires fabricating metamaterials at extremely small length scales – a tricky feat.

However, recent research by Soukoulis and his co-workers from the University of Karlsruhe, Germany, published in the May 12, 2006, issue of Science demonstrates they have done just that. “We have fabricated for the first time a metamaterial that has a negative index of refraction at 1.5 micrometers,” said Soukoulis. “This is the smallest wavelength obtained so far.” Small, indeed; these wavelengths are microscopic and can be used in telecommunications. Soukoulis’ success moves metamaterials into the near infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum – very close to visible light, superior resolution and a wealth of potential applications!

In addition, Soukoulis and his University of Karlsruhe colleagues have also shown that both the velocity of the individual wavelengths, called phase velocity, and the velocity of the wave packets, called group velocity, are both negative, which Soukoulis said accounts for the ability of negatively refracted light to seemingly defy Einstein’s theory of relativity and move backwards faster than the speed of light.

Elaborating, Soukoulis said, “When we have a metamaterial with a negative index of refraction at 1.5 micrometers that can disperse, or separate a wave into spectral components with different wavelengths, we can tune our lasers to play a lot of games with light. We can have a wavepacket hit a slab of negative index material, appear on the right-hand side of the material and begin to flow backward before the original pulse enters the negative index medium.”

Continuing, he explained that the pulse flowing backward also releases a forward pulse out the end of the medium, a situation that causes the pulse entering the front of the material appear to move out the back almost instantly.

“In this way, one can argue that that the wave packet travels with velocities much higher than the velocities of light,” said Soukoulis. “This is due to the dispersion of the negative index of refraction; there is nothing wrong with Einstein’s theory of relativity.” (These effects are clearly seen in the simulations that accompany this press release. Go to: Light Movies)

The Basic Energy Sciences Office of the DOE’s Office of Science funds Ames Laboratory’s research on metamaterials. Ames Laboratory is operated for the Department of Energy by Iowa State University. The Lab conducts research into various areas of national concern, including energy resources, high-speed computer design, environmental cleanup and restoration, and the synthesis and study of new materials.

Saren Johnston | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ameslab.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions
27.04.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>