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Corkscrew light beams could lead to practical quantum computers

Specially-made surfaces can 'spin' light into strange forms.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
November 5, 2017
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Second Bay Studio/Harvard SEAS

Who said light only had to travel in boring waves or particles? Not Harvard. Its researchers have found a way to spin light into complex states that promise breakthroughs in multiple fields. They've built metasurfaces whose elaborate optics combine two kinds of light momentum (orbital angular and spin angular) to send light into corkscrews, spirals or even fork-like shapes. If you want to change the light state, you just need to change the polarization of that light.

They're not just for show, of course. The research team envisions these complex light states being very helpful for quantum optics and data, which could help quantum computers become a practical reality. They could also lead to high-powered imaging where a hole in the center of a light vortex could be changed to refocus on a subject. And it could also lead to better free-space optical communication that can transmit through turbulent air and other conditions that scatter light. While it's very early days for this exotic light manipulation, it could prove instrumental to computing in the long run.

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