High Sorcery and Frozen Light

There’s this cliche that buzzes around the place (breathlessly repeated) “advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, and I must admit I find it quite irritating… partly because it seems to be a way of saying “we can make perpetual motion machines if we really put our minds to it” and partly because I can’t imagine any technology that I would consider to be anything other than technology.

But I think I’ve met my match. Lene Hau can stop light.

<snip>she brought light to a complete halt in a cloud of ultracold atoms. Next, she restarted the stalled light without changing any of its characteristics, and sent it on its way.</snip>


<snip>In the experiment, a light pulse was slowed to bicycle speed by beaming it into a cold cloud of atoms. The light made a “fingerprint” of itself in the atoms before the experimenters turned it off. Then Hau and her assistants guided that fingerprint into a second clump of cold atoms. And get this – the clumps were not touching and no light passed between them.</snip>

The techniques sound simple; the simple description of what is actually taking place does my head in.

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  1. […] been harbouring notions of high-science and low-science… the high-science bit being the frozen-light, and genomics and nuclear fusion… and even touchable holograms and whatnot, while low science […]