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'Slow Light' May Enable Benchtop Black Holes

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2002
Ulf Leonhardt of St. Andrews University in St. Andrews, UK, hopes to bring black holes -- or, at least, an optical analog of their event horizons -- to the lab. In the Jan. 24 issue of Nature, he describes how the manipulation of an electromagnetically induced transparency medium should produce a wave catastrophe in a "slow light" field, yielding radiation akin to the emissions from black holes theorized by Stephen W. Hawking.

Leonhardt, a theoretical physicist, suggests that altering the intensity of the control light on the medium to a parabolic profile should generate pairs of polaritons out of the vacuum on either side of a logarithmic phase singularity. The polaritons should emerge as photons with a characteristic spectrum and in sufficient numbers to be seen with the naked eye.

Unlike the particle pairs knocked into existence at a black hole's event horizon, the photons on both sides of Leonhardt's singularity could be investigated for such phenomena as entanglement.

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