Unlocking the Power of Light

If you have ever had the pleasure of taking a physics class you probably know that light travels extremely fast.  299,705,000 meters per second or 670,422,658 miles per hour in air to be exact.  One may believe that freezing something that travels this fast for even a fraction of a second is impossible. Would you believe that researchers from the University of Darmstadt in Germany were able to halt light for a whole minute?

The team, led by George Heinze, accomplished this amazing feat by firing a laser beam at an opaque crystal in turn exciting the atoms of the crystal to the point of being transparent. A second source of light was directed at the crystal at which point the laser beam was turned away. This caused the crystal to become opaque once more and the light from the second source to become “trapped” inside the crystal. By tweaking the magnetic field surrounding the crystal the researchers were able to keep the light “trapped” inside the crystal for a whole minute. A minute may not sound like much time but in that amount of time light can travel about 11,173,711 miles or more than 40 trips to the moon!

What makes this research so significant to the public at large is the implications it can have on data storage in the future. The ability to “store” information in light by storing light in a medium, such as a crystal, could lead to long range quantum networks.

If you are interested in the physics behind the phenomenon that makes this research possible, be sure to check out the complete article in Physical Review Letters.

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