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Source: http://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/369289/light-bending-scientists-promise-brighter-futureLight-bending scientists promise brighter future
By Stewart Mitchell
Posted on 12 Aug 2011 at 13:33
Scientists claim a breakthrough light-bending technique could lead to faster, smaller communications devices and improved computing components.
In a development that confounds the textbook idea that light travels in a straight line, the scientists have harnessed a recent discovery that light rays can travel in a curved arc in free space.
According to researchers at the US Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, these so-called "airy" beams could play a central role in future computing, especially now they have uncovered a way of controlling how the light actually bends.
"It's an odd thing for sure, as light is supposed to travel in a straight line," says Peng Zhang a member of the research team. "That's why people are so crazy about these kinds of interesting beams."
The breakthrough involved coupling these airy beams with virtual particles - called surface plasmon polaritons (SPPs) - on the surface of metal, which meant the light beam could be manipulated at a tiny scale.
According to the scientists, these tiny particles are picked up and carried in the light to affect changes on “ultrafine-scale features on the surface of a metal”, which could carry information along the metal at the molecular level.
"Just as ocean waves move objects on the surface of the water, the SPPs can be directed to manipulate ultrafine-scale features on the surface of a metal," the researchers said.
Although there are systems that can already make the same changes to a metal's surface, current methods rely on a fixed nano-scale structure to direct the flow of SPPs, which makes them difficult to deploy and inflexible if changes are needed after fabrication.
By using computer-controlled optics, however, the research team said it had developed a way to steer and manipulate the beams, precisely directing their trajectories to specific spots on an optical surface and adjusting them as needed.
Due to their unique arc-shaped paths, the beams have the added ability to bypass surface roughness and defects, or even vault over obstacles and could be coupled with thin materials, such as graphene, to make computing components in the future.