Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Stacking the deck: Single photons observed at seemingly faster-than-light speeds

27.01.2010
Researchers at the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI), a collaboration of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Maryland at College Park, can speed up photons (particles of light) to seemingly faster-than-light speeds through a stack of materials by adding a single, strategically placed layer.

This experimental demonstration confirms intriguing quantum-physics predictions that light's transit time through complex multilayered materials need not depend on thickness, as it does for simple materials such as glass, but rather on the order in which the layers are stacked. This is the first published study* of this dependence with single photons.

Strictly speaking, light always achieves its maximum speed in a vacuum, or empty space, and slows down appreciably when it travels through a material substance, such as glass or water. The same is true for light traveling through a stack of dielectric materials, which are electrically insulating and can be used to create highly reflective structures that are often used as optical coatings on mirrors or fiber optics.

In a follow up to earlier experimental measurements (see "A Sub-femtosecond Stop Watch for 'Photon Finish' Races", NIST Tech Beat, March 14, 2008.), the JQI researchers created stacks of approximately 30 dielectric layers, each about 80 nanometers thick, equivalent to about a quarter of a wavelength of the light traveling through it. The layers alternated between high (H) and low (L) refractive index material, which cause light waves to bend or reflect by varying amounts. After a single photon hits the boundary between the H and L layers, it has a chance of being reflected or passing through.

When encountering a stack of 30 layers alternating between L and H, the rare photons that completely penetrate the stack pass through in about 12.84 femtoseconds (fs, quadrillionths of a second). Adding a single low-index layer to the end of this stack disproportionately increased the photon transit time by 3.52 fs to about 16.36 fs. (The transit time through this added layer would be only about 0.58 fs, if it depended only upon the layer's thickness and refractive index.) On the contrary, adding an extra H layer to a stack of 30 layers alternating between H and L would reduce the transit time to about 5.34 fs, so that individual photons seem to emerge through the 2.6-micron-thick stack at superluminal (faster-than-light) speeds.

What the JQI researchers are seeing can be explained by the wave properties of light. In this experiment, the light begins and ends its existence acting as a particle—a photon. But when one of these photons hits a boundary between the layers of material, it creates waves at each surface, and the traveling light waves interfere with each other just as opposing ocean waves cause a riptide at the beach. With the H and L layers arranged just right, the interfering light waves combine to give rise to transmitted photons that emerge early. No faster than light speed information transfer occurs because, in actuality, it is something of an illusion: only a small proportion of photons make it through the stack, and if all the initial photons were detected, the detectors would record photons over a normal distribution of times.

* N. Borjemscaia, S.V. Polyakov, P.D. Lett and A. Migdall, Single-photon propagation through dielectric bandgaps, Optics Express, published online Jan. 21, 2010, doi:10.1364/OE.18.002279.

Ben Stein | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nist.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation
12.12.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik

nachricht Telescopes team up to study giant galaxy
12.12.2017 | International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research

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: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

12.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Multi-year submarine-canyon study challenges textbook theories about turbidity currents

12.12.2017 | Earth Sciences

Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

12.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>