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Time Is on My Sides: Researchers Show Double-Slit Experiment Also Applies to Time

mind bending clock

Insider Brief

  • An Imperial College-led team of researchers were able to create a time-domain version of the double-slit experiment.
  • The team used a beam of light that was twice gated in time — and discovered many more oscillations than predicted, suggesting a rise time that approached an optical cycle.
  • Results could yield practical advances, such as “optical realizations of time-varying metamaterials, promising enhanced wave functionalities such as non-reciprocity, new forms of gain, time reversal and optical Floquet topology.”

Scientists have been able to confirm the wave-particle duality of quantum objects like photons, electrons and atoms through double-slit experiments.

Now it looks like it’s time’s turn.

In a study published in Nature, an Imperial College-led team of researchers were able to create a time-domain version of the double-slit experiment using a beam of light that was twice gated in time.

“Our experiment reveals more about the fundamental nature of light while serving as a stepping-stone to creating the ultimate materials that can minutely control light in both space and time,” said Riccardo Sapienza, professor of physics, Imperial College and the new study’s lead researcher.

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Young’s Baffling Double-Slit Experiment

Although, as mentioned above, double-slit experiments, which were first performed by Thomas Young in 1801, can be used to study electrons and atoms, we typically use the double-slit experiment to explore the wave-particle behavior of light. In these experiments, scientists shine a beam of light at a screen that has two narrow openings in it, placed very close to each other. When the light passes through the two slits, it creates a pattern of bright and dark bands on another screen placed behind the first one. This pattern is created because the light waves passing through the two slits interfere with each other, either reinforcing each other — creating the bright bands — or canceling each other out — creating the dark bands. That forms a a pattern scientists refer to as interference.

Even when scientists send individual particles of light — or photons — through the two slits, the same interference pattern still appears on the screen behind the slits. This suggests that light can behave like both a wave and a particle at the same time.

In the experiment on time, the scientists used a thin film of indium tin oxide that was optically excited to generate “time slits” that diffracted the light at optical frequencies. The distance between the time slits determined the oscillations in the frequency spectrum, while the decay of fringe visibility revealed the shape of the time slits.

Scientists found many more oscillations than predicted by existing theory, suggesting a rise time that approached an optical cycle.

Mind-Blowing Implications, Practical Implications and Mind-Blowing Practical Implications

The researchers said that the results — besides just blowing our collective minds — have practical implications. The results seem to have mind-blowing practical implications, too — especially appreciate how the scientists drape “time reversal” in the middle of the list below.

The team writes: “The observation of temporal Young’s double-slit diffraction paves the way for the optical realizations of time-varying metamaterials, promising enhanced wave functionalities such as non-reciprocity, new forms of gain, time reversal and optical Floquet topology. The visibility of oscillations can be used to measure the phase coherence of the wave interacting with it, similar to wave–matter interferometers. Double-slit time diffraction could be extended to other wave domains, for example, matter waves, optomechanics and acoustics, electronics and spintronics, with applications for pulse shaping, signal processing and neuromorphic computation.”

In addition to Sapienza,the research team included: Romain Tirole,Stefano Vezzoli, Emanuele Galiffi, Iain Robertson, Dries Maurice,  Benjamin Tilmann, Stefan A. Maier and John B. Pendry.

This discovery could lead to further exploration of time-varying physics and the development of applications such as signal processing and neuromorphic computation.

If you found this article to be informative, you can explore more current quantum news here, exclusives, interviews, and podcasts.

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Matt Swayne

With a several-decades long background in journalism and communications, Matt Swayne has worked as a science communicator for an R1 university for more than 12 years, specializing in translating high tech and deep tech for the general audience. He has served as a writer, editor and analyst at The Quantum Insider since its inception. In addition to his service as a science communicator, Matt also develops courses to improve the media and communications skills of scientists and has taught courses. [email protected]

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The Future of Materials Discovery: Reducing R&D Costs significantly with GenMat’s AI and Machine Learning Tools

When: July 13, 2023 at 11:30am

What: GenMat Webinar

Picture of Jake Vikoren

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Company Speaker

Picture of Deep Prasad

Deep Prasad

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