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Researchers slow light to a crawl in liquid crystal matrix

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Posted August 14, 2013
Researchers slow light to a crawl in liquid crystal matrix

Researchers slow light to a crawl in liquid crystal matrix
This image shows the molecular structure of the liquid crystal helix and the embedded dyes. The dyes are represented by red rods on the right of the picture. When the dyes are illuminated with light, they change from a rod-like shape (called a trans state) to a V-shape (called a cis state). The shape change can delay the passage of a light pulse or store a memory of that pulse. Credit: OSA

Light traveling in a vacuum is the Universe’s ultimate speed demon, racing along at approximately 300,000 kilometers per second. Now scientists have found an effective new way to put a speed bump in light’s path. Reported today in The Optical Society’s (OSA) open-access journal Optics Express, researchers from France and China embedded dye molecules in a liquid crystal matrix to throttle the group velocity of light back to less than one billionth of its top speed. The team says the ability to slow light in this manner may one day lead to new technologies in remote sensing and measurement science.

The new approach to manipulating light, conducted by a group from France’s Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis and China’s Xiamen University, uses little power, does not require an external electrical field, and operates at room temperature, making it more practical than many other slow light experiments. Putting the brakes on light can help scientists compare the characteristics of different light pulses more easily, which in turn can help them build highly sensitive instruments to measure extremely slow speeds and small movements, says Umberto Bortolozzo, one of the authors on the Optics Express paper. In a second paper, also published today and appearing in OSA’s journal Optics Letters, Bortolozzo and colleagues from the Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis and the University of Rochester describe an instrument that uses slow light to measure speeds less than one trillionth of a meter per second.

Scientists have known for a long time that a wave packet of light becomes more sluggish when it travels through matter, but the magnitude of this slow-down in typical materials such as glass or water is less than a factor of two. “The question is: can we do something to the matter in order to make light slow down much more considerably?” says Bortolozzo.

Read more at: Phys.org

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