I am sitting with one of the smartest people I know. I’m talking MIT smart! We do not have a lot to talk about because he is a genius, and I’m a Luddite who can’t figure out how to operate my smartphone, let alone grasp quantum mechanics. Undeterred by my ineptness in all things “sciencey,” he tries. Case in point: He randomly mentions that he read a recent article that scientists have discovered how to speed a pulse of light up to 30 times faster than the speed of light and even make the light travel backward. Just for reference, the conversation before this revelation was about rock bands! A quick shift of gears, and he has my attention.

What do you mean faster than the speed of light? Didn’t Einstein say that nothing in the universe can go faster? What happened to the speed of light is the fastest known to man? Science happened! Quantum physics happened! Researchers first accomplished making light travel faster than the speed of light in 2006, using light traveling through an optical fiber. But now the speed of light can be controlled in open space. The research is published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications. The study co-author Ayman Abouraddy, a professor at UCF’s College of Optics and Photonics, states that, “This is the first clear demonstration of controlling the speed of a pulse light in free space,” How did they do it? The researchers mixed the properties of space and time using a spatial light modulator, allowing them to control the velocity of a pulse of light. My brain is exhausted just from writing that sentence. One practical application of this discovery is in communications where it could be used to alleviate data congestion and information loss as more and more devices go online and are transferring data at higher and higher rates. Cheers to my lovable nerd friend for introducing me to new information and making me appreciate the fantastic minds that keep propelling the science of light forward and in this case, backward too!

Deborah Kotob
Pro to Pro Director
[email protected]