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Tech Thursday, March 15th 2012 at 2:30 pm

MIT Develops Metamaterial That Slows Down The Speed of Light

There’s always a lot of fuss about getting other things to go as fast or faster than the speed of light. But what about changing the speed of light? Is there anything useful we could do by slowing light down rather than speeding things up? As it turns out, there are all kinds of benefits to be had from slowing light down and making it easier to capture, which is why MIT has been working on nanotech “metamaterials” that can do just that: Slow down the speed of light.

A paper on the subject is due to be published in the Nano Letters in the near future, but we already know a bit about the work. In short, researchers at MIT have developed materials —  from the atom up — called metamaterials, which are meticulously engineered to have qualities that no matter found in nature do. The metamaterials in question here are designed to interact with light in very specific ways and can actually slow down light to less than 1/100th of its normal speed in a vaccuum, making it all the easier to catch and absorb for the purposes of energy generation. “When something is going very fast, it’s difficult to catch it,” Lead author Nicholas X. Fang told TG Daily, ”so we slow it down so it’s easier to absorb.”

The wedge-shaped materials are not only good at absorbing photons, but they’re also good at emitting them, which means that in addition to applications in more efficient solar panels, these metamaterials could also make for more efficient lightbulbs. To boot, while they are constructed on the atomic scale, they can still manage to be relatively cheap, cheap enough that widespread adoption at some point in the future isn’t out of the question. The materials can also be tailor-made to focus on one particular wavelength or another, giving them a lot of potential for use in very specific situations.

Like all scientific developments you tend to hear about, this technology is in its very early stages, but things look promising so far. With the recent advance of creating more efficient traditional solar panels with the help of an ion cannon, we may see the overall efficiency of solar power increase by leaps and bounds in the coming years. The real practical application of this stuff is still totally speculation, but here’s to hoping it’s just as revolutionary as it sounds.

(via TG Daily)

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