Monday, March 03, 2008

Physicists Successfully Store and Retrieve Nothing

This could easily fit in as an episode of the Jerry Seinfeld series.

It appears that there is such a thing as a "squeezed vacuum", and it takes some effort to store and retrieve this "nothingness".

To see what this is, begin with a normal light wave. Classically, this is a smooth wave of electromagnetic fields with equally spaced peaks and dips. But throw in quantum mechanics and things get more complicated. The precise height of the wave becomes uncertain, so the wave gets fuzzy (see figure). Physicists have learned how to manipulate that inevitable uncertainty--for example, making it smaller at the peaks and larger in between. That makes "phase-squeezed light." Now imagine turning down the intensity of the phase-squeezed light to zero. The wave itself goes away, but the waxing and waning uncertainty remains, creating a squeezed vacuum.

It's interesting that two separate groups produced work on this at almost the same time. This, of course, is not unusual, and PRL, Nature, and Science have been known to put such things in the same issue. It serves to reinforce the discovery.


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