slow down the speed of light

Who knows how fast light travels? The speed of light (the fastest known speed of anything) is 186 thousand miles per second. I will repeat that because it bears repeating: The speed of light is 186,000 m/s. That means that in the blink of an eye, a beam of light can travel around the earth nearly 10 times.

Lene Vessergard Hau, a Danish (someone from Denmark, not the pastry) scientist working at Cambridge and Harvard discovered how to slow down a beam of light. She managed to slow it down to 38 mph! How, a curious person might ask, did she achieve this?. She passed a beam of light through super-cooled sodium atoms which work like “optical molasses.” When the sodium reaches absolute zero (The coldest temperature known to man), the atoms combine to form a Bose-Einstein Condensate which is 460 degrees below zero!

So, we can slow light down, big friggin’ deal! What good is it to us? Well, right now, not much, because this technology is in its infancy and is just a toy for lab scientists. However, a few developments down the line and we are looking at a variable light controller. How about recording yourself onto a slow light beam, then removing the cold sodium and sending it, at light speed, anywhere in the world you want with little to no loss of signal? How about super-fast computers using light pathways and never crashing? How about a little further in the future?

We look up at the moon and see a budding colony of scientists and astronauts. How about being able to communicate with them flawlessly and with no lag from the surface of the earth? How about classes being held globally, with the signal being brought everywhere at once simultaneously?


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