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Friday, 06 January 2012 11:30

Physicists create wrinkle in time

Written by Nick Farell



Dr Who explains


A team of physicists at Cornell University has created a wrinkle in time, well not so much a wrinkle as a moth hole, if moths ate time, so that is probably not a good simile.

It is more like a teeny timey wimy thing which means that things inside it can't seen. They did happen of course, but they might as well not have happened. Physics is all about things being observed, so if it was not seen then it technically didn't happen. Imagine you have two fish fingers and a big bowl of custard. On the other hand don't bother because this has nothing to do with the space time continuum.

Anyway, the Cornell lot have come up with something called “temporal cloaking,” which is a bit like Berlusconi’s bank account where things are invisible and events are unrecorded. They have managed to do something like this before. About six years ago they managed to create “spatial cloaking,” in which light is bent around an object in a way that makes it disappear from view. But this is doing the same thing with time and it is called ‘transformational optics'. Sadly the hole only exists for 50 trillionths of a second which makes it fairly useless for anything significant.

One of the boffins involved in the research Moti Fridman, a researcher at the School of Applied and Engineering Physics at Cornell University pointed out that it would be “pretty useless if you wanted to steal a painting from a museum”. Of course it would be pretty useless. You would need to be in and out in several trillionths of a second and besides if you wanted to steal a painting you would go to a gallery rather than a museum, do wake up. If you are short of a Tardis then cloaking things, either in space or in time, requires the manipulation of light. Light carries information; bounces off objects, and feeds cats, well at least in some dimensions.

If an object can stop light from doing what it does then it becomes invisible. But a beam of light marks an event in time and if the light is disturbed then the event becomes invisible. Now you need all sorts of lasers and optical er stuff to make this happen and you have to disperse and undesperse light in predictable ways. Is there such a word as undesperse? I will get to that later.

Anyway according to the magazine Nature, Fridman pulsed the beam with a second laser that changed the light from a single wavelength to a range of wavelengths, different colours. The beam then entered a section of cable that had the property of carrying light of different wavelengths at different speeds, specifically blue light faster than red. Then the two colours separated until there was a space between them where there was no light at all. Complete darkness. It was a centimetre long and lasted 50 picoseconds but it was a real time gap made without temporal moths. Human's eh? You look at a bit of temperal fabric and think, what happens if I bore a hole through it. I say bore, am I boring? I expect I am. Now off to the Gallifray Burger Bar for Fish fingers and custard.

Nick Farell

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