Science 4 min read

Trapping Light With Metamaterials Could end Buffering

ArtMari |

ArtMari |

A team of researchers in London have been working on methods designed to slow down and trap light. It’s time to go over their method, and what it could produce in the future of Industry 4.0.

Light is very fast, so far. Can we change that? #slowitdown #trappedrainbows.Click To Tweet

Why is that important? Well, for about the last decade, researchers at Imperial College London have been hard at work trying to slow light down. And, experimentally speaking, they can.

That’s right: we can slow light down. It’s amazing, but it isn’t easy, and it’s worth it because of the wide range of improvements we could get from it.

Credit: Imperial College London

Before we get into potential applications, though, let’s take a minute to talk about how slowing light down actually works.

How to Trap a Sunbeam

If you want to put a number on how fast ‘light speed’ is, you could use 299,792,458 meters per second. That’s a heck of a lot faster than your car, and slowing it down is a rather exciting possibility–but something that researchers have been working on for over a decade.

Of course, the best way to slow the light down is to trap it. And for that, you need special materials called metamaterials or nanoplasmonic structures.

These materials work a bit like quicksand. Light actually pushes the materials around, much like sand, so that the more light moves through it, the more trapped it gets. At a certain point, you have a sweet equilibrium called a ‘trapped rainbow‘.

Credit: Imperial College London

Now that you have trapped light, it’s time to put it to use. What uses does this have, you might wonder? Well, that’s a pretty big question, but I think we can answer it with three big examples.

Trapping Light can Improve Data

Data transfer is the foundation of the digital age, and light plays a big part.

Light is a broad band, and as we all remember, very fast. Thus, fiber-optic connections draw from a stream that is running too fast. To stem the flow, we buffer it by converting light into electricity, then back into light.

If we could just slow light down, though, we could skip that step. According to Professor Ortwin Hess of Imperial College, that’s possible. He thinks that it would greatly improve data transfer efficiency.

And let’s be honest, we all love it when the flow of data to our devices is fast and efficient.

It’s not just data flow, however. Trapping light could improve magnetic storage by making it easier to form small magnetic fields. The smaller fields could allow for further miniaturization for data storage devices.

Getting Photons Excited

It’s hard not to talk about lasers when the subject is light manipulation.

Try trapping light and NOT talking about lasers! #youcant #impossibleClick To Tweet

Hess thinks that a ‘stopped-lightlaser could be possible, which could be an easier way to make lasers.

Currently, conventional laser tech uses a beam that holds excited photons in place. There are other types of laser that work on different principles, such as the polariton laser, but those are very difficult to make.

A stopped light laser would make it easier to form lasers. If it’s easier to form lasers, then you can expect to see smaller and more effective laser emitters. That’s insane, and it could have huge implications in virtually every field of technology.

Trapped Light Could be Good for Your Health

Last, but most certainly not least, is your health. Or, more accurately, biomedical imaging. Researchers need to see how medical samples interact with lasers, but that’s dangerous for the samples. Their samples could potentially survive longer if the light is slowed down.

A stopped-light laser might be useful too, depending on just how easy it is to make. Remember the polariton laser that I mentioned before? It was being used to tag cancer cells, and it was specifically useful because of the conditions the laser was created under. If a stopped-light laser can be used for the same purpose, then that’s one more nail in cancer’s coffin.

That covers the big advancements that trapped rainbows can bring us, but I think I covered some pretty broad areas. At this point, the research is very much experimental, and all we can really do is speculate about it.

That’s my favorite part of bleeding edge research, though. So feel free to speculate away. Who knows, your idea could help bring about the future.

What do you want to see trapped light do for you?

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William McKinney

William is an English teacher, a card carrying nerd, And he may run for president in 2020. #truefact #voteforedgy

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