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Researchers find ways to squeeze light into spaces never thought possible


It looks like a team of UC Berkeley researchers led by mechanical engineering professor Xiang Zhang (pictured) have found a way to squeeze light into tighter spaces than ever though possible, which they say could lead to breakthroughs in the fields of optical communications, miniature lasers, and optical computers. The key to this new technique, it seems, is the use of a "hybrid" optical fiber consisting of a very thin semiconductor wire placed close to a smooth sheet of silver, which effectively acts as a capacitor that traps the light waves in the gap between the wire and the metal sheet and lets it slip though spaces as tiny as 10 nanometers (or more than 100 times thinner than current optical fibers). That's apparently as opposed to previous attempts that relied on surface plasmonics, in which light binds to electrons and allows it to travel along the surface of metal, which only proved effective over short distances. While all of this is still in the theoretical stage, the researchers seem to think they're on to something big, with research associate Rupert Olten saying that this new development "means we can potentially do some things we have never done before.

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