via California Institute of Technology
Most of us control light all the time without even thinking about it, usually in mundane ways: we don a pair of sunglasses and put on sunscreen, and close—or open—our window blinds.
But the control of light can also come in high-tech forms. The screen of the computer, tablet, or phone on which you are reading this is one example. Another is telecommunications, which controls light to create signals that carry data along fiber-optic cables.
Scientists also use high-tech methods to control light in the laboratory, and now, thanks to a new breakthrough that uses a specialized material only three atoms thick, they can control light more precisely than ever before.
The work was conducted in the lab of Harry Atwater, the Otis Booth Leadership Chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science, and director of the Liquid Sunlight Alliance (LiSA). It appears in a paper published in the October 22 issue of Science.
To understand the work, it is helpful first to remember that light exists as a wave and that it has a property known as polarization, which describes the direction in which the waves vibrate. Imagine being in a boat bobbing on the ocean: Ocean waves have a vertical polarization, which means that as the waves pass under the boat, it goes up and down. Light waves behave in much the same way, except these waves can be polarized at any angle. If a boat could ride waves of light, it might bob from side to side, or on a diagonal, or even in a spiraling fashion.
Polarization can be useful because it allows light to be controlled in specific ways. For example, the lenses in your sunglasses block glare (light often becomes polarized when it reflects off a surface, like the window of a car). The screen of a desk calculator creates legible numbers by polarizing light and blocking it in areas. Those areas where the polarized light is blocked appear dark, while areas where the light is not blocked appear light.
Original Article: Controlling Light with a Material Three Atoms Thick
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