Light Speed: Turn It Down, Turn It Up

Light always travels at 186,000 miles per second (300 Million meters per second) in a vacuum. Well, almost always. A team of scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique F|AMP|eacute;d|AMP|eacute;rale de Lausanne (EPFL) has been able to control the speed of light, both decreasing and increasing it using off-the-shelf instruments under normal working conditions.

Other researchers have been able to slow, and in some cases, completely stop the speed of light; however, each previous experiment required controlled laboratory condition. The EPFL scientists, based in Switzerland, have demonstrated a methodology for speed control without the need for specialized equipment. Rather, standard optical fibers are used as the medium in which the experiment took place. The speed of the light signal can easily be adjusted, allowing the operator to control the transmission speed over a wide variance.

This is not just a scientific novelty. The ability to accelerate and decelerate the speed at light travels in a fully-optical environment will have profound impact on the telecommunication’s industry, which relies heavily on fiber-optic cable for both long-haul and short-hop data connectivity. Currently fiber-optic transmissions must be converted to slower electrical transmissions before the data can be processed. Data traveling at the speed of light that is controllable may allow all-optical data transmission media, eliminating the current need for electrical conversion.

The EPFL scientists demonstrated the creation of optical memory using their Stimulated Brillouin Scattering (SBS) method, which decelerated the light transmission by 72 percent.

Dave’s Opinion
One of the personal benefits that I see to an all optical network is faster data transmission speeds, both for corporate and consumer networks. Currently, broadband bandwidth is throttled to prevent electrical switches from being overtaxed during peak loads. The available bandwidth is limited to prevent excessive peaks in requested bandwidth. An all-optical network, with increased available bandwidth may increase the users’ available bandwidth, even allowing for management by pro-rata share and throttling.

Call for Comments
What do you think? Leave your comments below.

Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne


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