Sunday, November 25, 2007

Slowing the speed of light

Living in a small country like Denmark, it's rare that you an read about scientists from the same country who have made real breakthroughs in science. There have been a few through the years, with Niels Bohr and Tycho Brahe are the two most well-known.

The current issue of Wired mentions a current Danish scientist, who has done something really spectacular.

Lene Vestergaard Hau can stop a pulse of light in midflight, start it up again at 0.13 miles per hour, and then make it appear in a completely different location. "It's like a little magic trick," says Hau, a Harvard physicist. "Of course, in all magic tricks there's a secret." And her secret is a 0.1-mm lump of atoms called a Bose-Einstein condensate, cooled nearly to absolute zero (-459.67 degrees Fahrenheit) in a steel container with tiny windows. Normally — well, in a vacuum — light goes 186,282 miles per second. But things are different inside a BEC, a strange place where millions of atoms move — barely — in quantum lockstep.

I won't pretend that I even begin to understand the ideas and principles behind this amazing feat, but it's fascinating that it's possible.

Perhaps unsurprising, there have been a lot of coverage of her work in Denmark, but it's interesting that her research has become well known enough for a popular magazine like Wired to write about it.

Back in February, NPR interviewed Lene Vestergaard Hau about her work - you can listen to the interview here.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the NPR link, I've added it to my blog entry! :)

November 26, 2007 7:38 AM  

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