Lene Hau has already shaken scientists' beliefs about the nature of things... in 1998, Hau, for the first time in history, slowed light to 38 miles an hour, about the speed of rush-hour traffic...
Two years later, she brought light to a complete halt in a cloud of ultracold atoms... In the experiment, a light pulse was slowed to bicycle speed by beaming it into a cold cloud of atoms. The light made a "fingerprint" of itself in the atoms before the experimenters turned it off. Then Hau and her assistants guided that fingerprint into a second clump of cold atoms. And get this - the clumps were not touching and no light passed between them.
"The two atom clouds were separated and had never seen each other before," Hau notes. They were eight-thousandths of an inch apart, a relatively huge distance on the scale of atoms.
The experimenters then nudged the second cloud of atoms with a laser beam, and the atomic imprint was revived as a light pulse. The revived light had all the characteristics present when it entered the first cloud of atomic matter, the same shape and wavelength. The restored light exited the cloud slowly then quickly sped up to its normal 186,000 miles a second...
She is coolly confident that light-to-matter communication networks, codes, clocks, and guidance systems can be made part of daily life. If you doubt her, remember she is the person who stopped light, converted it to matter, carried it around, and transformed it back to light.
31 July 2009
Light converted into matter - and back into light!