Light Stopped: German Physicists Trap Light In Crystal For Record-Breaking 60 Seconds, Could Improve Quantum Communication [VIDEO]

By Philip Ross on July 25, 2013 3:25 PM EDT

light stopped two
Light stopped for a whole minute at a research center in Germany. Physicists trapped the light inside a crystal using a laser. (Photo: Flickr/shuttermonkey)
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In 1999, Harvard physicist Lene Vestergaard succeeded in slowing down a beam of light to about 17 meters per second. Two years later, she was able to stop the beam momentarily. (Photo: Screenshot/YouTube)

Light stopped for 60 seconds inside a crystal at a research center in Germany after scientists fired lasers at it. No, this isn't the opening scene of a James Bond film -- this is physics, and it's happening right now. Scientists at the University of Darmstadt in Germany stopped light, the fastest thing in the universe, dead in its tracks, and held it there for a whole minute.

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"One minute is extremely, extremely long," Thomas Krauss at the University of St Andrews, UK, told New Scientist. "This is indeed a major milestone."

Light travels at a speed of 186,282 miles per second. It takes just over a second (1.2862 seconds, to be exact) for a beam of light to reach the moon. The team of university researchers in Germany was able to stop light for 60 seconds using crystals and lasers.

According to Extreme Tech, the physicists used a technique called electromagnetically induced transparency, or EIT. It involves firing a control laser at a cryogenically-cooled, opaque crystal made of yttrium silicate and doped with praseodymium (don't worry, you're not going to be quizzed on this stuff later). The laser turns the crystal transparent, after which a second light source is beamed into the crystal. The control laser is then shut down, rendering the crystal opaque once again.

"Not only does this leave the light trapped inside, but the opacity means that the light inside can no longer bounce around -- the light, in a word, has been stopped," Extreme Tech reports.

The breakthrough could lead to secure quantum communication, the use of atoms and photons to send encrypt and send information, over long distances.

"It should even be possible to achieve longer light storage times with other crystals ... as they have pushed their current material close to its physical limit," New Scientist reports.

In 1999, Harvard physicist Lene Vestergaard succeeded in slowing down a beam of light to about 17 meters per second using a Bose-Einstein condensate, a matter that acts like a glue to the light. Two years later, she was able to stop the beam momentarily.

In this video, Vestergaard explains her process:

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