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Scientists Freeze Pulse Of Light 343

Smitty825 writes "After slowing down light to slow speeds, scientists at Harvard University have been able to stop light for a very brief period of time without destroying its energy. The article explains how it is different from this previous light-stopping science story - this will hopefully help the development of quantum computers and ways to communicate over long distances without being eavesdropped on."
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Scientists Freeze Pulse Of Light

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  • by ultraw ( 99206 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @05:44AM (#7688192) Homepage
    The article mentions clearly:

    "We have succeeded in holding a light pulse still without taking all the energy away from it," said Mikhail D. Lukin, a Harvard physicist.

    This is somehow different from "...without destroying its energy." like it is stated in the posting. Maybe a subtle detail, but not quite the same.

    However, a briliant achievement. Kuddos.
  • Another article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Quirk ( 36086 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @05:58AM (#7688241) Homepage Journal
    BBC News [bbc.co.uk] has an article which speaks a bit more to Quantum crytography.

    "Quantum cryptography might provide very secure forms of electronic encryption, because the process of eavesdropping on an electronic message would introduce errors in the message, garbling it."

    "This would allow you to exchange a key on a public channel, but whereas any classical system can be broken by an eavesdropper, in quantum cryptography you would always find out if someone was looking at your message," Professor Zubairy told BBC News Online."
  • by loadquo ( 659316 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @05:59AM (#7688250) Homepage
    Like I did here. [lanl.gov]
  • More links (Score:5, Informative)

    by prospero14 ( 233659 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @06:00AM (#7688256)
    More detailed articles about the research can be found here [hackensackhigh.org] or here [sciencenews.org].

    Larkin's article itself is here [lanl.gov].

    Any physics nerds want to explain it to us?

  • Re:More links (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zog The Undeniable ( 632031 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @06:07AM (#7688278)
    The light beam is stored (in gas atoms) rather than stopped. It's a bit like sending an e-mail - you don't get the same electrons that were sent to you from the other person's computer, but the electrons that come down your telephone line/DSL/cable are identical in every respect.
  • by epsilon720 ( 307234 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @06:15AM (#7688308)
    That just means that if you were, in fact, able to drive your car through their rubidium medium, it might produce somthing akin to cherenkov radiation, another example of massive particles traveling faster than c/n.
  • by trentblase ( 717954 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @06:19AM (#7688325)
    I think you're not supposed to be able to go faster than light under the _same conditions_. If someone used forward and backward control beams to time-vary your Rabi-frequencies, I doubt you'd be going anywhere fast.
  • by psychofox ( 92356 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @06:44AM (#7688396)
    According to the Slashdot summary, it is apparently possible to destroy energy!!! Issac Newton may turn in his grave...
  • Re:More links (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2003 @06:56AM (#7688420)
    well, any one electron is in a sense identical to any other.

    but there's a stronger concept at work in this light thing too, indistinguishability. Sometimes, the 'same' photon doesn't mean anything. actually, it never means anything. photon is the observed quanta, and you can only ever make the observation once, same with electrons.
  • by LordLucless ( 582312 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @07:09AM (#7688460)
    Bob Shaw, Other Days, Other Eyes. A poster above mentioned it.
  • by benjamindees ( 441808 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @07:22AM (#7688495) Homepage
    That may be how traditional optical communications works. Quantum crypto, otoh, relies on the light being put in a certain polarization state by the sender. It's designed so that a stream of single photons go from sender to receiver; there can be no equipment in-between. If an intermediary views this photon en-route, it disturbs the polarization seen by the receiver. Because of the way the sender and receiver can agree on which photons were correctly measured, any aberrations (intercepted photons) are discarded. The most you can hope for is a denial-of-service.

    Here's a better explanation [dartmouth.edu] than I can muster.
  • by fruey ( 563914 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @07:56AM (#7688580) Homepage Journal

    They're not stopping the photon. They're simply storing it in several atoms quantum spin. Then they hit it again with a laser and get the earlier pulse back out of the quantum spin stored in the atoms. It's rather limited because, quoting from Science News

    So far, Hau and her team report the longest storage time for pulses--about a millisecond. By then, random atomic motion had washed out most pulse information, the researchers suspect. The Harvard-Smithsonian team reports that its pulses' information is erased partly because atoms escape from the region lit by the coupling laser.

    However your post should be modded funny, because it's a witty, clever response rather than the usual worn jokes which somehow seem to get modded up all too frequently.

    Reminds me of a childrens story I read once about a time machine, which was based on a nutty inventor who managed to build a car that got progressively faster. First of all it took a minute to get a specific distance, then 30 seconds, then 1 second, until in fact it took no time at all and then less than no time to get there until it ended up travelling backwards in time...

  • by dillkvast ( 657246 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @08:32AM (#7688696)
    On the subject securing optical links, quantum crypto is an interesting aproach. It is not useful to transmit a lot of data, but can be used in secure key interchange.

    More on this:
    here [dartmouth.edu]
    here [qubit.org]
    and here [csa.com]
  • by whovian ( 107062 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @08:40AM (#7688722)
    You've got the right idea, but the Uncertainty Principle puts a lower bound on the mutual uncertainties in time and energy measured, ie,

    4 * pi * uncertainty in time * uncertainty in energy >= Planck's constant

    (I believe you can use the standard deviation as the uncertainty here.) This "law" that results from our model for quantum mechanics thus tends to put a limit on how fast a quantum/optical computer can be.
  • A few more details (Score:3, Informative)

    by Paradise Pete ( 33184 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @08:46AM (#7688742) Journal
    This article [optics.org] gives a few more details, and here [iop.org] is the actual press release.
  • Say what? (Score:3, Informative)

    by LostCluster ( 625375 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @09:09AM (#7688839)
    "this will hopefully help the development of... ways to communicate over long distances without being eavesdropped on"

    We already have that. Light based fiber runs are impossible to tap into without having to break the connectivity to hook up an additional device. Of course, nothing goes coast-to-coast directly, so they're plenty of chances for the spooks to install their logging equipment at a switching station or router.

    The only way to communicate securely without encryption is to totally control physical access to the line, which just plain isn't gonna happen over long distances.
  • by misterpies ( 632880 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @09:28AM (#7688923)
    no, that's false. the universal speed limitation is the speed of light in a vacuum. Because light passing through matter moves slower than it does through a vacuum, it's perfectly possible to move faster than the "local" speed of light. Physicists have studied this by firing high-speed particles into crystals. Basically the particle creates a shockwave, a sort of optical equivalent of a sonic boom. It's called Cherenkov radiation if you want to look it up.
  • by imsabbel ( 611519 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @09:30AM (#7688933)
    the speed of light slows down by 30% if it enters water or glass. This is nothing new.
    But interstellar space is mostly vacuum, so n is nearly 1, thus c is mostly correct.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2003 @10:33AM (#7689393)
    Some people have posted claims that this is similar to the earlier experiments of Lene Hau, where the light pulse was indeed stored as excitations in trapped atoms (either in a BEC as in Hau's case, or in a vapor cell as in Lukin's earlier experiment).

    This is quite different from what's going on here. In this experiment, two lasers are used to polarize the atomic vapor as a function of position, and then bouncing light off that polarization gradient. Think of what happens when you put light in between two highly reflecting mirrors, and let it bounce back and forth. Then think about what happens if you nest thousands of these mirrors within each other, so that if the photon leaks out of one, it has to deal with the next one, only one wavelength away. Since the photon is spending so much time bouncing back and forth, it doesn't really have a chance to escape the gas, and so we say that it's trapped.

    It's essentially a new way of making a high quality cavity.
  • by red floyd ( 220712 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @12:20PM (#7690408)
    The Light of Other Days [amazon.com] is by Steven Baxter and Arthur C. Clark.
  • by thufir ( 129668 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @12:22PM (#7690445)
    Sorry friend, but he is correct and you are wrong.

    He stated the 'color' of our photo receptors. Although our photo receptors pick up C, Y, and M -- it is because their colors (as he said) are R, G, and B.

    ie: the Red Photoreceptor reflects RED, that is why it is a red colored photoreceptor. Since it reflects RED, it picks up BLUE and GREEN, which make one of the (secondary) colors you mentioned.

    You are also wrong saying that RGB is used for pigment. Pigment gets its color by absorbing color, and you see what is reflected. RGB is used for TVs and Monitors where there is a direct source of light.

  • Re:Okay... (Score:3, Informative)

    by kevlar ( 13509 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:14PM (#7690920)
    The speed of light is constant. What they are doing is having photons absorbed by atoms in the medium which are later emitted. The velocity at which the photons travel is constant.

    What they've really done is created a medium which slows the asorption and emittion of the photons so drastically that it is descernable by the naked eye. What they have NOT done is altered C. In other words, what they've done is the equivalent to shining a flash light through water and saying they've slowed the speed of light. This is drastically different from actually slowing the velocity of the photons through a vaccuum. In their case, their medium is constantly absorbing and re-emitting the photons. In essense, the photons that emerge from the other end are not the same photons that entered it. They are equivalent copies. Such is what happens with glass or any other transparent medium.
  • by edrain ( 658393 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @01:48PM (#7691234) Homepage
    Off topic, admittedly, but I just googled 'tequila sunrise recipe' and here are the first three actual recipes returned:
    First [1worldrecipes.com]
    Second [lisashea.com]
    third [about.com]
  • by MadHungarian1917 ( 661496 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @04:28PM (#7692930)
    The "fact" that fiber optic cable is untappable is more a article of faith rather than objective reality. Providing you have physical access to a optical cable it is trivial to tap one. All that is required is that the cable be bent. The bend refracts light through the cladding and it can be detected with a suitable detector. The loss increases on the cable as a result of the bend (but communications are not disrupted so long as the loss is less than the loss budget for the link. Most carriers have test equipment based on this principle to allow them to perform non-invasive testing of their fiber plant. Hence the problem is more of an access issue. BTW this is why secure F/O cables run within a pressurized conduit. A pressure drop indicates someone is attempting to gain access OR a squirrel is chewing through it!. Yes I design F/O cable plant!
  • by Platinum1 ( 519177 ) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @06:13PM (#7694413)
    Energy = h*f, where f is the frequency of light and h is Planck's constant. The percieved color of slowed light is the same as when it is at speed c, if it has the same energy.

    Normally, we say that the color of light depends on the wavelength of the light, but technically it depends only on the frequency (not the same thing!). We know that:

    frequency = speed of light / wavelength

    But when light passes through any transperent material (with index of refraction n > 1), the speed of light changes, as well as the wavelength. Coincidentally, they also change by the same amount.

    speed of the light = c/n
    wavelength of light = L/n
    where c and L are the speed and wavelength of the light in a vacuum and n is the index of refraction

    Because they change by the same amount, the frequency remains unchanged. At least, this is how it works in normal transperent materials like water, air, and glass. This cutting edge stuff may be different, but the article lacks all the good technical bits for me to be able to tell.

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