A team of scientists at Germany’s University of Darmstadt have broken a major — and bizarre — record, bringing light itself to a full stop inside a crystalline structure and keeping it stopped for a full minute. The groundbreaking research could have major implications for storing information in quantum memory.
In a minute, light moving at full speed in a vacuum could travel more than 11 million miles. The previous record for stopping light, set earlier this year, was 16 seconds. So how did researchers nearly quadruple that number? As you might expect, it involves some complicated physics.
The Darmstadt team, led by Georg Heinze, used a combination of laser light and magnetic fields to create light beams that they were able to fire into an opaque crystal. The laser sent the atoms into a state of quantum superposition, in which the atoms exist in two states simultaneously, and making the structure transparent in a narrow range of light spectra. With the crystal in its transparent state, the team then fired another laser into it, then switched off the first laser beam, collapsing the superposition and trapping the second laser beam inside.
The team proved that the light was trapped by storing information in the form of a simple picture of three stripes on it, and then retrieving the same picture from the crystal. While the current crystal in the experiment has reached its full potential as a storage device, says Heinze, other substances could be used and increase the time information could be stored even further. That, in turn, could transform quantum memory storage and the instant communication systems it implies from the stuff of science fiction to a fact of life.
The research was published this month in the journal Physical Review Letters, and you can read more about the details here.
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