We all know that light is the fastest “thing” in our Universe. How fast? Exactly 187,000 miles per second in vacuum!
At Harvard University in 1999 a Danish scientist named Lene Hau had the idea of using a Bose-Einstein condensate to slow down and capture light. The professor believed that slowing down light to human level speed that is easy to be observed and studied is an absolutely fascinating breakthrough idea with numerous applications.
Lene Hau created the cigar-shaped Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC- atoms frozen almost to absolute zero state) to carry out her experiment. She fired a light pulse into the cloud. The speed of the pulse matches the speed of light which is exactly 187,000 mp/s but when it hits the condensate it slows down to the speed of a bicycle. The innovative side of this experiment is that Lene Hau actually discovered how to slow down or even completely stop light into the condensate without losing the information in the atoms. It’s a lot more complicated than just firing up a light-beam into a wall in which case all the information disperses and turns into heat.
Lene’s breakthrough accomplishment earned her research scholarships and a full-time professor position at Harvard University.