Ever since Harry Potter, scientists researching the ability to cloak objects from sight have found themselves getting more and more attention from the public eye. One thing we hadn’t thought of though, is the ability to cloak events themselves.
Well, researchers at Cornell University are one step ahead of us, as a team from their school of Applied and Engineering Physics demonstrate a way to not only conceal events from us, but also to place something into a gap in time and withdraw it later without anyone noticing.
How does it work?
Imagine life as a movie and the researchers as its editors. What is essentially happening is that the editors are splicing ‘frames’ from the movie but rather than deleting it altogether, they’re hiding it.
The team fired a continuous wave laser at a split time lens, which resulted in the laser being slowed down at one end and sped up at the other. This opened up a time gap of 50 picoseconds as the beam passed through (a picosecond is equivalent to one trillionth of a second).
The beam was then reversed to produce a converse effect on the acceleration and deceleration of light, putting the beam back together.
How do we know it worked?
You may well ask how we know that it worked at all… surely if we conceal an event then we’re not going to know that it happened anyway.
In order to prove that the cloaking had worked, the team fired another pulse of light into the centre of the time gap they’d created to produce a clone of the beam at a very different frequency, thus diverting light in time.
One of the most interesting uses for the discovery is the ability to insert data or an event into the created time gap and drag it out later unobserved to the human eye.
This all sounds like it’s intended for some kind of dastardly cartoon plot, but the researchers have said that it could find some much more practical uses. For example, the ability to insert data unnoticed could work very well in data communications where it is vital not to interrupt the stream
When will we see it (or rather, not see it)?
Exploiting this technology outside of a research lab would be considerably more difficult. The team used a specific and varied selection of fibers whose distinct properties allowed for the opening of the time gap, and it would be very difficult to employ all of these in a practical real life situation.
We may eventually see it finding a place in the technology industry, but you’re not going to be having your friends pull time loop pranks on you just yet.
Robin enjoys blogging about technology and writes for experts in online glasses www.directsight.co.uk.