Light Captured In A Crystal

Light stopped for one second in the crystal shown below. A team of researchers from the Laser Physics Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra succeeded in setting the record for 'stopping' light, increasing the total time by a factor of 1,000.


(Light stopped for one second)

Dr. Matthew Sellars stated that the objective for 'stopping' light is to develop memory for quantum computing. He said:

“Stopping light is not just a neat trick, it is the basis of a quantum memory — a device capable of storing and recalling the quantum states of light."

Here's how its done:

“We use a small silicate crystal doped with a rare-earth element, praseodymium. It is on the praseodymium ions that we store the light pulse.

“When we shine a laser pulse at this crystal, it’s normally absorbed. The light doesn’t get through the crystal. Then we add a second laser beam that turns on the coupling between the nuclear spins and the light. This coupling makes the crystal transparent. So when we now fire the first laser beam at it, it gets through, but the odd thing about it is that it takes a very long time to do so.”

“To store the light in there, we turn the second laser beam off. The signal from the first laser beam is trapped inside the crystal. To get the signal out again, we turn the coupling beam on again. We can now store light for seconds, and potentially quite a bit longer."
(Dr. Matthew Sellars, Laser Physics Centre, in PhysOrg)

The next goal is to stop and store a single photon, creating the first quantum memory.

"And this stopping light, what we're doing is transferring the quantum information which is on the light, or a complete description of the light field.

"We can now store it on the crystal and hold it there for a long time, for seconds and hopefully longer, and then come back basically just flick a switch, and then recall that quantum information and regenerate the light pulse.

"It should be an exact copy of the pulse that we've put in. So rather than using electrons we'll be using photons, we'll be using light pulses to control our computer system."
(Dr. Sellars)

In 1968, science fiction writer Bob Shaw wrote Light of Other Days, a cool story about trapping light in glass and then slowly releasing it over time. This created a "scenedow" for people without a view:

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)

For news about other elements of a quantum computer, read The Latest in Quantum Dot Switches. Read more about this story in Light capture may pave the way for more powerful computers and Stopping light in a quantum leap. Thanks to Vik for the tip on this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 9/17/2005)

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