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Discovery of the Century?
Perhaps the greatest discovery in a century – just happened and few of us are jumping for joy. Why? Shouldn't we all be asking what this "slow light" discovery means?
That's right, I said "stop"
"Slow Light" is the ability to actually slow and even stop photons, scientists say. That's right, I said "stop" and then the photon just moves forward again? Yep.
But it's more that just this. It has long been known that light speed changes when photons pass through certain mediums, say water for example. Glass, like diamonds, also refracts light. This property of light or photons, slowing down in glass or air, is related the refractive index. But this new discovery is not about the refraction of light. This is not about light or photons passing through a medium or staying locked up inside powerful magnetic fields. No, this new discovery appears to be at odds with the known properties of light itself.
'Light speed' has taken on a whole new meaning.
So what is so different about this new "slow light"? The apparent fact that photons are not propagating through much of a medium. In other words, photons are traveling through the "air" or in a vacuum – very slowly. How did they do that – and what are the applications? They are just beginning to figure that part out.
Phys.org (Phys.org) did a piece about a similar issue on March 16, 2015. They confirmed Einstein's theories regarding 'spacetime foam' and how there was no slow down of photons from a far away gamma-ray burst. Several studies from various Universities confirmed that no, the photons from a specific source – a gamma ray burst – essentially traveled at the same speed. In fact, the various energies of the 'photons' studied did not appreciably reduce or increase the speed of light. This does not mean that light's speed cannot be changed, however, it simply means that the light (photons) studied was traveling at nearly the same speed.
In an article for engaget titled "Scientists eye secure communications by slowing down light" dated April 9, 2015, by Timothy J. Seppala, reported that scientists in Vienna have successfully slowed the speed of light from its blistering 671 million miles per hour, to a casual 112 miles per hour. Finally, we can drive our cars faster than the speed of slowed light. Although, this new discovery has many applications for secure communications – we have just scratched the surface. What is more, they can also stop and restart the light later.
Science Daily in another article titled "Scientists slow down the speed of light travelling in free space" dated January 23, 2015, it was stated that this slowing of light was accomplished in "free space" – meaning in the air or in a vacuum. In other words, the light is not being passed through a medium or substance. They are not using water. They are, however, using a type of 'filter'. The exact method – the way the photons themselves are used – is a bit difficult to understand and I won't go into the particulars here. I don't want to bore the non-inclined. But what is even more wonderful, is that it appears we can still keep our old fiber optic networks, since 'slow light' is compatible with current technology.
The Harvard University Gazette
But the idea to slow down light is not new. Perhaps the current method of slowing light is novel, but Physicists actually conducted experiments of this nature over a decade ago. Then, according to The Harvard University Gazette, dated February 8, 1999, in an article titled "Physicists Slow Speed of Light", by William J. Cromie - it was previously accomplished. Physicist Lene Hau reduced the speed of light at the time, to 38 miles per hour. Other sources indicate that Hau slowed light to a mere 17 miles per hour. In either case, the problem was that Hau sent photons through a medium and not "free space". What we have now, with 'slow light' tech, is a new animal indeed. No medium is required.
Los Alamos National Laboratory
According to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, on February 12, 2015, slow light technology could lead to advancements in "optical" computing. Previously, light could not be regulated and this led to a type of information overload in the information highway, not to mention, within the laptop computers of today. The article titled "‘Slow light’ advance could speed optical computing, telecommunications" discussed how information packages via optical technology could be used to regulate the 'packages' of data, like cars are 'regulated' by traffic rules. There is also talk about how the differences in light speeds could be used to create a type of photon entanglement, which could then make quantum computing a reality.
Osaka University, Suita, Osaka, Japan
Certainly, this new technology has "lighted the way" to a host of new applications. Improvements to Solar Cell technology is being investigated. Quantum data storage with "stopped light" is another theory. Secure communications via fiber optic networks is an obvious choice.
In Japan, there are other ideas. Improvements to Nano-Technology is being contemplated. Nano-Imaging for example. Taking really small pictures. Analyzing "DNA" strands is a goal.
(For more on nano-investigations, please research works by Satoshi Kawata of Osaka University, Suita, Osaka, Japan.)
But we've only seen the tip of the iceberg.Our computers, cell phones, batteries and a plethora of technologies, appears destined for the junk-heap of history – in short order.
Hold onto your light bulbs!
Bulbs? What are those?