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Fast Light, Slow Light and Optical Precursors: What Does It All Mean?

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How can the group velocity of a pulse of light propagating through a dispersive material exceed the speed of light in vacuum without violating Einstein’s special theory of relativity?

Daniel J. Gauthier, Duke University, and Robert W. Boyd, University of Rochester

The speed of light in vacuum (c ≈ 3 × 108 m/s) is an important physical constant that appears in Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism. For this reason, scientists have endeavored to measure it with very high precision, making it one of the most accurately known of all physical constants. The situation becomes murkier for a slightly different situation: Send a pulse of light through a dispersive optical material rather than vacuum, and bizarre things start to appear. For example, under conditions such that the dispersion of the medium is anomalous over some spectral region,1...Read full article

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