"Slow Light"

Stephen E. Harris
Kenneth and Barbara Oshman Professor of Electrical Engineering and Professor of Applied Physics Emeritus, Stanford University, Stanford, CA USA
Lene V. Hau
Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA USA

Hau and Harris are suggested as possible Nobel Prize winners “for the experimental demonstration of electromagnetically induced transparency (Harris) and of ‘slow light’ (Harris and Hau)”

It is now well known that the optical properties of matter can be changed dramatically, to the extent that an opaque object is made transparent over a narrow range of wavelength within an absorption line. This is achieved by using a laser control beam or “pump” to clear an atomic window through the absorption region of a gas. A second laser beam can then pass through unhindered. Electromagnetically induced transparency (EIT) involves cooling sodium atoms almost to absolute zero, creating a Bose-Einstein condensate that behaves as if it were a single atom. In their 1999 paper titled “Light speed reduction to 17 metres per second in an ultracold gas,” Lene Hau and Stephen Harris describe how they used EIT to slow optical pulses to the speed of a bicycle. Then in 2001, Hau and her team at Harvard brought laser light pulses to a standstill for a thousandth of a second in a magnetically trapped ultracold cloud of sodium atoms. In her native Denmark, Lene Hau is widely feted. She has awards from the University of Aarhus, where she received her BSc, MSc, and PhD in physics, as well as the University of Copenhagen, the Danish Physical Society, and the Royal Danish Society. For his work in laser science, Stephen Harris has major awards from the Optical Society of America and the American Physical Society. For his work on slow light he received, in 1999, the highest award of the Optical Society of America, its Frederic Ives Medal.

Commentary on the Physics Laureates by Simon Mitton, Physics correspondent, ScienceWatch