Light That Goes Around Corners No Longer Just An Airy Tale
Light travels in straight lines, goes fast, and has virtually no mass. These are properties many of us have held as inviolate since our high school physics teachers first made mention of them, but now scientists have gone and screwed things up. Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have managed to create light rays that can travel around corners, and diffuse a hell of a lot less.
These light rays, named "Airy Beams" after Sir George Biddell Airy, who studied parabolic light trajectories in rainbows - presumably to find that damned leprechaun - were originally created at the University of Florida using a light ray that was shone through glass plates of differing thicknesses.
Now, Professor Ady Arie - whose name seems almost too fortuitous to be happenstance - and his colleagues have discovered a way to create Airy Beams by using specially designed crystals to take in light rays, bounce them around, and come out all Airy. Professor Arie and his team have been able to control not only which direction the beams curve, but also the peak intensity of the beams.
The original Airy Beam process used linear optics, which involves passing light through an object (or objects) to see what happens. Arie's process uses non-linear optics, which involves shooting light into stuff, letting it bounce around, and seeing what happens. In the case of Arie's crystals, Airy Beams are produced, with differing wavelengths that are more easily controlled. It is this same process that generates the annoying green light emitted by laser pointers. Infrared light is fired into the cavity of the pointer, and the material within causes the light to change wavelength and color green. This new light can then be directed out the front of the device to point at whiteboards, blind students, or crash airplanes.
Right now, Arie is working on fine-tuning his process, and says that lifestyle-altering changes like rooms lit without a visible light source are still five to ten years away. The current practical application of Airy Beams is mostly in the pharmaceutical industry, which can use them as a form of quality control. Small particles will become attracted to the most intense part of the beam, which can now be controlled by the Arie method. This in turn will allow drug companies to filter out particles of errant size or quality, hopefully helping to kill less people with lethal doses or bad batches.
While things like "light-bullets" and the use of Airy Beams as a communications system lie even farther into the future, it seems that Arie and his team may have cornered the market.
Ouch. That one had to hurt.