Researchers slow light to a "crawl," photonic computers imminent

Cyrus Farivar
C. Farivar|12.23.06

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Researchers slow light to a "crawl," photonic computers imminent
While other divisions of NTT are trying to rev up data transmission rates as high as possible, others are trying to slow down the speed of light. This might seem like a Sisyphean task, but those Japanese scientists have done it -- researchers from the telco giant have just published a paper in the January edition of Nature Photonics showing that by using synthetic "photonic crystals," light can be slowed to 5.8 kilometers per second (it normally goes at about 300,000 kilometers per second). We ought to point out, though, that this isn't the first time that light has been slowed down so much, with a team at Harvard achieving the task last year by using ultra-cold Bose-Einstein condensates, and another study at Harvard showed in 2003 that light could be slowed all the way to 38 mph. Still, all of this research is another step forward in "photonic computing," which aims to use trapped light to usurp more traditional electron storage in traditional computer logic. We're sure that once this technology gets transferred to consumer-grade laptops (like, say in 2020), we'll be able to render 12-dimensional shapes in no time at all.

[Image courtesy The Economist]

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