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Twisted Double-Slit Experiment Reveals Light Interacting with Its Own Past

An iconic scientific experiment known as the double-slit experiment, which demonstrated the dual nature of light as both a wave and a particle, has taken a new twist. Researchers have now performed a variation of this experiment by introducing “slits in time,” uncovering fascinating insights into the behavior of light and opening up possibilities for creating unique materials called time crystals.

The original double-slit experiment, conducted by Thomas Young in 1801, involved shining a beam of light through two small slits on a plate or card. The light waves passing through the slits interfered with each other, forming a pattern of light and dark bands on a screen. This interference pattern was evidence that light behaves as a wave.

In a recent study, Riccardo Sapienza from Imperial College London and his team replicated this experiment but with a twist. Instead of separating the obstacles in space, they separated them in time. Performing experiments like these has been challenging due to the requirement for materials that can rapidly switch from being transparent to reflective. The researchers used a material called indium tin oxide, which can transition from nearly transparent to highly reflective when struck by a powerful laser beam.

Using two consecutive laser pulses, the researchers made the material reflective and simultaneously shone a less powerful “probe” laser through it. The light from the probe laser passed through the material when it was not reflective and bounced back when it hit the reflective material.

When measuring the light that bounced back, the researchers observed similar interference patterns as the classic double-slit experiment. However, this time, the interference occurred in the frequency of the light, determining its color, rather than in its brightness. The unexpected finding was that the light’s frequency oscillated much more than anticipated, indicating that the material responded incredibly fast to the laser pulses, within a few femtoseconds.

This rapid transition time could have applications in various fields. One intriguing possibility is the creation of time crystals, exotic materials with repeating moving structures. Researchers also believe that this discovery may have implications for telecommunications and other technologies that rely heavily on manipulating signals in time.

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