Researchers set record we didn't know existed by trapping a beam of light

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Jul 29, 2013, 11:05 AM EDT

 It sounds crazy, but a beam of light can be temporarily trapped, and German scientists just a set new record for holding it in place.

Researchers at Germany's University of Darmstadt published a paper this month in the journal Physical Review Letters describing how they managed to trap light with a method known as electromagnetically induced transparency. It works like this: First, you hit an opaque crystal with a laser beam. This causes a "quantum reaction" that turns the crystal transparent. Then another light source is aimed at the transparent crystal and the laser is turned off. The crystal again turns opaque, and the light from the second source is temporarily trapped inside. 

Researchers have been able to achieve this feat before, but only for a fraction of a second. Through repeated attempts the Darmstadt researchers managed to keep increasing the time the light was trapped until they held it in the crystal for an entire minute.

"One minute is extremely, extremely long," said Thomas Krauss, a professor of optoelectronics at the University of St. Andrews in the U.K. who was not involved in the research. "This is indeed a major milestone."

So, what are the practical applications for this little trick? Well, using the same method, the researchers were able to store an image in the crystal. In the future, similar techniques could be used to place information inside a beam of light and transfer it from place to place. It's not quite a Star Trek transporter, but it is a fun step in the direction of beaming things to each other.

(Via Huffington Post)