final boundary space. The Enterprise spacecraft continues its mission to explore the galaxy, when all communication channels are suddenly cut off by an impenetrable nebula. In several episodes of the popular TV series, the brave crew must “tech-tech” and “science-science” within just 45 minutes of airtime in order to smooth their escape from this or other predicament before the final credits start showing. Despite spending significantly more time in their laboratories, a team of scientists from the University of Rostock has succeeded in developing an entirely new approach to designing synthetic materials that can transmit optical signals without any distortions by means of finely tuned energy flows. They published their results in science progress.
“When light is scattered in an inhomogeneous medium, it undergoes scattering. This effect quickly transforms a compressed, directed beam into a diffuse glow, which is familiar to all of us from both summer clouds and autumn fog,” Professor Alexander Smit of the Institute of Physics at the University of Rostock describes the starting point for the sake of his team. Notably, it is the microscopic density distribution of the material that dictates the scattering properties. Smit continues: “The basic idea of induced transparency is to take advantage of a lesser known optical property to clear the path of a packet, so to speak.”
This second property, known in the field of photonics under the obscure title “non-hermiticity”, describes the flow of energy, or more accurately, amplify and dilute the light. Intuitively, the accompanying effects may seem undesirable – especially the fading of the light beam due to absorption can be very counterproductive to the task of improving signal transmission. However, non-hierarchical effects have become a major aspect of modern optics, and an entire field of research strives to harness the complex interplay of losses and amplifications for advanced functions.
“This approach opens up entirely new possibilities,” says doctoral student Andrea Steinfurt, first author of the paper. With respect to the light beam, it becomes possible to amplify or quench certain parts of a packet At the microscopic level to counteract any deterioration onset. To remain in the nebula image, the light scattering properties can be completely suppressed. “We are actively modifying a material to adapt it for the best possible transmission of a specific light signal,” Steinforth explains. “To this end, the flow of energy must be precisely controlled, so that it can fit into matter and signal like pieces of a puzzle.” In close collaboration with partners from the Vienna University of Technology, researchers in Rostock have successfully tackled this challenge. In their experiments, they were able to recreate and observe the microscopic interactions of light signals With its newly developed active materials in kilometre-long fiber-optic networks.
In fact, induced transparency is just one of the fascinating possibilities that arise from these findings. If an object really should vanish, it should be prevented dispersion not enough. Instead, waves of light should appear behind them completely undisturbed. However, even in the vacuum of space, diffraction alone ensures that any signal will inevitably change its shape. “Our research offers a recipe for structuring a substance in such a way that rays of light pass as if neither the substance nor the very region of space it occupies existed. Not even Romulan’s illusory cloaking devices can do that,” co-author Dr. Matthias Heinrich, returning to the final frontier of Star Trek.
The results presented in this work represent a breakthrough in basic research on non-hermetic photonics and provide new methods for the effective fine-tuning of sensitive optical systems, for example, sensors for medical use. Other potential applications include optical coding and secure data transmission, as well as the synthesis of versatile synthetic materials with custom properties.
Andrea Steinfurth et al, Observation of light waves of constant intensity and induced transparency in designed non-Hermitian synapses, science progress (2022). DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abl7412
University of Rostock
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