Physicists successfully trap light in attempt to alter speed

Physicists successfully trap light in attempt to alter speed

In a new study, scientists from the University of Rochester were able to trap light for several nano-seconds, longer than has ever before been achieved.

Physicists at the University of Rochester have actually trapped light—even if only for a few nanoseconds—using a nano-cavity made of silicone.

The researchers that published the light detaining article in the journal Applied Physics Letters, have been hot on light’s tail for some time now to see what happens if they can alter the speed at which it travels. The article is the latest in Photonics—the science of generation, emission, transmission, detection and sensing of light—which is becoming one of the leading fields of technology as humans push further out from their world.

“Light holds the key to some of nature’s deepest secrets, but it is very challenging to confine it in small spaces,” study co-author Antonio Baolato said in a statement recently. “Light has no rest mass or charge that allows forces to act on it and trap it; it has to be done by carefully designing tiny mirrors that reflect light millions of times.”

The scientists used a nano-cavity made from a silicon wafer—a thin slice of semiconducting material—to become a temporary “prison” cell for the light. The cell, which is barely larger than one-hundredth the width of a human hair, decreased the distance the light ray would have traveled without being confined to the apparatus by several meters.

NASA has been delving into just this sort of technology recently, experimenting with laser based communication when astronauts from the International Space Station sent a 175-mbps, high-definition video saying, “Hello, world!” to the earth. Compare this to the Mars rover, Curiosity, transmitting its data at 250 Kbps.

Trapping the light allows researchers to examine properties that it otherwise would not be able to observe without the ray being slowed down. Before, data could not be relayed nearly as accurately or at all while into deep space. Now, contributors to the study hope this technology will enable spacecraft—or even manned spacecraft—to push much further into space like the video sent from the astronauts at the International Space Station earlier this month.

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