We’ve written previously about the theoretical possibility of “event cloaks”–metamaterial space-time devices that could theoretically conceal an entire event in time from the view of an outsider. Well, while some bright minds were just talking about bending space-time to their whims, a team at Cornell was doing it. And it works. For 110 nanoseconds.
There’s a more thorough explanation of this notion in our previous coverage, but briefly this is the idea: basically, you need two time-lenses–lenses that can compress and decompress light in time. This is actually possible to do using an electro-optic modulator (what, you don’t have one?). Basically, using two of these modulators you would slow down or compress the light traveling through the first lens, and then set up a second lens downrange from the first that would decompress, or accelerate, the incoming photons from the first lens.
Got that? Refer to this handy gif, courtesy of some blokes working on a similar idea at Imperial College London:
Paul Kinsler, Imperial College London
Think of the photons like steadily flowing traffic on a highway. If you slow the traffic at a point upstream, you create a gap. You can cross the highway through the gap and then accelerate that traffic to catch up to the traffic ahead, closing the gap. To someone further downstream, the gap is not there–to that observer, the gap might as well have never existed because there’s no evidence of it.
During that gap, whatever occurs goes unrecorded. But, as we noted above, you’d have to be pretty quick were you to use such a device to pull some kind of shenanigans. The current device the Cornell gents have built creates a 110 nanosecond event gap, and they concede that the best it could achieve is 120 microseconds. But, as KFC notes at Technology Review, rarely is anything final in cutting edge theoretical physics.
Details at arXiv.