News>Ledlie Prize awarded for research expected to improve fiber optics and computing
Dr. Lene Hau, Mallinckrodt professor of physics and applied physics at Harvard University, has discovered applications through her work with light and matter that will impact the Air Force by providing significant advances in computing, optical networks, and quantum cryptography. (Photo courtesy of Justin Ide/Harvard News Office)
Dr. Lene Hau, an internationally celebrated physicist and AFOSR-, National Science Foundation-, NASA-funded researcher has overseen work leading to the first successful manipulation of coherent optical information.
by Maria Callier
Air Force Office of Scientific Research
2/2/2009 - ARLINGTON, Va. -- An internationally celebrated physicist and AFOSR-, National Science Foundation-, NASA-funded researcher has overseen work leading to the first successful manipulation of coherent optical information.
Dr. Lene Hau, Mallinckrodt professor of physics and applied physics at Harvard University, has discovered applications through her work with light and matter that will impact the Air Force by providing significant advances in computing, optical networks, and quantum cryptography.
Her research has caught the attention of the national and international media as well as Harvard University. Recently, she was awarded the university's George Ledlie Prize for her fearless and cutting-edge research in the area of light and matter. The Ledlie Prize is awarded no more than once every two years to a researcher who 'since the last awarding of said prize has by research, discovery or otherwise made the most valuable contribution to science, or in any way for the benefit of mankind.'
Hau said in an interview with Harvard University's Gazette Online, 'I am very honored to receive the prize. It is really wonderful to receive this kind of recognition from your home institution.'
In the same article, Harvard's Provost Steven E. Hyman lauded Dr. Hau's work by noting that 'her research blurs the boundaries between basic and applied science, draws on the talent and people of two schools and several departments, and provides a literally glowing example of how taking daring intellectual risks leads to profound rewards.'
In 1999, Hau slowed light down to 38 mph by shooting a laser through very cold atoms. Two years later, she halted light, restarted it and sent it on its way. Two years ago, Hau and her co-researchers, Dr. Naomi S. Ginsberg and Dr. Sean R. Garner, stopped and extinguished a light pulse in a tiny, supercooled sodium cloud called a Bose Einstein Condensate, and then brought the light pulse back into existence in another atom cloud in a separate location. The information inside the light pulse was transferred from the first to the second cloud by converting the light pulse into a travelling matter wave, a small atom pulse that was a perfect matter copy of the extinguished light pulse. After the matter wave entered the second cloud, the atoms there worked together to restore the original light pulse.
Currently, scientists and engineers working in optical networks and quantum cryptography are only able to store an optical signal, but Hau's work will enable them to have a greater degree of control over quantum processing than ever before.
In a Harvard University press release Hau noted, 'This work could provide a missing link in the control of optical information. While the matter copy is traveling between the two Bose-Einstein Condensates, we can trap it, potentially for minutes, and reshape it in whatever way we want. The induced changes will then be present in the revived light pulse.'
Hau and graduate student Brian Murphy's work showing the first merging of cold atom and nanoscale technologies appeared as a cover story of the January 23, 2009 issue of Physical Review Letters and in the journal, Physics.
Hau noted that the highlighted research is important to chip integrated science and will result in new nanooptic devices and research into quantum physics at the nanoscale.