"Gain Assisted Superluminal Light Propogation"...


Quantum Scribe
Subject: "Gain Assisted Superluminal Light Propogation"...The Speed of Light Is Exceeded

Gain Assisted Superluminal Light Propogation

The Speed of Light Is Exceeded in Lab
overview of work by Dr. Lijun Wang

Scientists have apparently broken the universe's speed limit. For
generations, physicists believed there is nothing faster than light
moving through a vacuum - a speed of 186,000 miles per second. But in
an experiment in Princeton, N.J., physicists sent a pulse of laser
light through cesium vapor so quickly that it left the chamber before
it had even finished entering. The pulse traveled 310 times the
distance it would have covered if the chamber had contained a

This seems to contradict not only common sense, but also a bedrock
principle of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, which sets the
speed of light in a vacuum, about 186,000 miles per second, as the
fastest that anything can go.

But the findings--the long-awaited first clear evidence of faster-
than-light motion--are "not at odds with Einstein," said Lijun Wang,
who with colleagues at the NEC Research Institute in Princeton, N.J.,
report their results in today's issue of the journal Nature.

"However," Wang said, "our experiment does show that the generally
held misconception that 'nothing can move faster than the speed of
light' is wrong." Nothing with mass can exceed the light-speed limit.
But physicists now believe that a pulse of light--which is a group of
massless individual waves--can.

To demonstrate that, the researchers created a carefully doctored
vapor of laser-irradiated atoms that twist, squeeze and ultimately
boost the speed of light waves in such abnormal ways that a pulse
shoots through the vapor in about 1/300th the time it would take the
pulse to go the same distance in a vacuum.

As a general rule, light travels more slowly in any medium more
dense than a vacuum (which, by definition, has no density at all).
For example, in water, light travels at about three-fourths its
vacuum speed; in glass, it's around two-thirds.

The ratio between the speed of light in a vacuum and its speed in a
material is called the refractive index. The index can be changed
slightly by altering the chemical or physical structure of the
medium. Ordinary glass has a refractive index around 1.5. But by
adding a bit of lead, it rises to 1.6. The slower speed, and greater
bending, of light waves accounts for the more sprightly sparkle of
lead crystal glass.

The NEC researchers achieved the opposite effect, creating a gaseous
medium that, when manipulated with lasers, exhibits a sudden and
precipitous drop in refractive index, Wang said, speeding up the
passage of a pulse of light. The team used a 2.5-inch-long chamber
filled with a vapor of cesium, a metallic element with a goldish
color. They then trained several laser beams on the atoms, putting
them in a stable but highly unnatural state.

In that condition, a pulse of light or "wave packet" (a cluster made
up of many separate interconnected waves of different frequencies) is
drastically reconfigured as it passes through the vapor. Some of the
component waves are stretched out, others compressed. Yet at the end
of the chamber, they recombine and reinforce one another to form
exactly the same shape as the original pulse, Wang said. "It's called

The key finding is that the reconstituted pulse re-forms before the
original intact pulse could have gotten there by simply traveling
though empty space. That is, the peak of the pulse is, in effect,
extended forward in time. As a result, detectors attached to the
beginning and end of the vapor chamber show that the peak of the
exiting pulse leaves the chamber about 62 billionths of a second
before the peak of the initial pulse finishes going in.

That is not the way things usually work. Ordinarily, when sunlight--
which, like the pulse in the experiment, is a combination of many
different frequencies--passes through a glass prism, the prism
disperses the white light's components.

This happens because each frequency moves at a different speed in
glass, smearing out the original light beam. Blue is slowed the most,
and thus deflected the farthest; red travels fastest and is bent the
least. That phenomenon produces the familiar rainbow spectrum.

But the NEC team's laser-zapped cesium vapor produces the opposite
outcome. It bends red more than blue in a process called "anomalous
dispersion," causing an unusual reshuffling of the relationships
among the various component light waves. That's what causes the
accelerated re-formation of the pulse, and hence the speed-up

In theory, the work might eventually lead to dramatic improvements
in optical transmission rates. "There's a lot of excitement in the
field now," said Steinberg. "People didn't get into this area for the
applications, but we all certainly hope that some applications can
come out of it. It's a gamble, and we just wait and see."

Visit the NEC Research Institute at http://www.neci.nj.nec.com/neciwebsite/index-page.html