AUSTIN, Texas—A team of University of Texas scientists has devised a theory that it believes when put into action will slow the speed of light from 186,000 miles per second to a crawl.
Dr. Swadesh Mahajan and his collaborators, V.I. Berezhiani and R. Miklaszewski of the Institute for Fusion Studies, published their findings in the January 1999 issue of the Physical Review A, a publication of The American Physical Society.
Other researchers recently have reported a similar feat by using a very rare state of matter called the Bose-Einstein condensate, which exists only at extremely cold — almost absolute zero — temperatures. Their procedure is much more difficult than the one theorized by Mahajan and his team. His team’s procedure needs only ordinary semiconductors at room temperature to trap light.
“That you can slow down light is extremely exciting in itself,” Mahajan said. As far as the value of the technology, Mahajan said it “likely will prove useful for making tunable lasers and optical computers of a future generation.” Tunable lasers can be adjusted to different colors of light.
Mahajan added that the research also could aid in reducing the size and cost of particle accelerators, which help scientists understand the basic building blocks of the universe. Initial experiments to verify the theory are under way in the department of physics under the leadership of Dr. Michael Downer.
The UT theory suggests using standard equipment that can be operated on a tabletop at room temperatures. Two ultrashort pulses of light are used. The first one creates appropriate conditions in the semiconductor that can slow down the second pulse to a standstill.