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Slow Light 'Scenedow' Close At Hand

John C. Howell and his team at the University of Rochester have succeeded in slowing waves of light and then using these pulses to store an image.

Howell and his colleagues created a four-inch-long chamber filled with cesium gas heated to about 212 degrees Fahrenheit. When they sent pulses of laser light through that gas, the cesium atoms put the brakes on the leading edge of that wave, creating a photonic traffic jam.

"Essentially, the light just piles up," Howell said.

Once the slowed light exits, it naturally resumes it normal velocity -- 300 million meters per second, or fast enough to circle the Earth seven times in one second.

Most important, the peaks and troughs of Howell's light waves remained in phase as they stacked up, meaning they did not get out of step and cancel one another out. That is key, because phase is one aspect of light that carries information.

To prove that their slowed light did not get scrambled, the team sent their beam through a tiny stencil, less than one-fourth inch on each side, with the block letters "UR" -- the university's initials. Like a shadow-puppet image, that "UR"-shaped beam passed through the chamber, slowed and then emerged with its block letter message intact, as detected by a camera at the end.
(From Putting the brakes on light speed)

It looks like Howell and his team have succeeded in creating a prototype version of what science fiction fans call a "scenedow." In his excellent 1968 short story Light of Other Days, author Bob Shaw wondered what it would be like to have a thick sheet of "slow glass" exposed to a natural scene:

The most important effect, in the eyes of the average individual, was that light took a long time to pass through a sheet of slow glass. A new piece was always jet black because nothing had yet come through, but one could stand the glass beside, say, a woodland lake until the scene emerged, perhaps a year later. If the glass was then removed and installed in a dismal city flat, the flat would—for that year—appear to overlook the woodland lake.
(Read more about slow glass scenedows)

Read more about how Slow Light Will Speed Communications and an experiment in which Light was captured in a crystal. Putting the brakes on light speed via /..

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/20/2007)

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