A team of researchers has managed to find a way to store a large amount of data in a single photon of light. Although the first stored item -- an image of the characters "UR" -- implies that the inventor was a 13 year old girl dealing with an extremely low text messaging limit, the image was in fact intended to signify the institution which developed the technology, the University of Rochester (either that or it's the shortest example of the "UR IN MY ...
" meme that we've seen in the while.) Apparently the system works because "instead of storing ones and zeros" (a la binary code), the team has figured out how to store an entire image in a single photon, which sounds sort of impossible to us. Funny, because that's exactly what John Howell, the leader of the team said about the system. One of the key components of the process is the particle-wave duality nature of light: by firing a single photon of light through a stencil -- we presume one heckuva small one -- the wave carries a shadow of the image along with it at a very high signal-to-noise ratio, even with low light levels. The light is then slowed down in a cell of cesium gas, where it is compressed to 1 percent of its original length. This is where the storage aspect of the device comes in, as the researchers hope to be able to delay a single photon almost permanently, resulting in a device that can store "incredible amounts of information in just a few photons": an enticing thought for a world currently satisfied with a maximum of 1TB hard drives based on physical platters
. A pity then that the world is completely distracted by the potential for "Photon
on photons" jokes that this throws into the ring.