Scientists succeeded in storing an entire image into one photon

January 22, 2007 at 12:20 Leave a comment

Researchers at the University of Rochester have made an optics breakthrough that allows them to encode an entire image into a single photon, slow the image down for storage, and then retrieve the image intact. While the initial test image consists of only a few hundred pixels, a tremendous amount of information can be stored with the new technique.

The image, a “UR” for the University of Rochester, was made using a single pulse of light and the team can fit as many as a hundred of these pulses at once into a tiny, four-inch cell. Squeezing that much information into so small a space and retrieving it intact opens the door to optical buffering — storing information as light.

“It sort of sounds impossible, but instead of storing just ones and zeros, we’re storing an entire image,” says John Howell, associate professor of physics and leader of the team that created the device, which is revealed in today’s online issue of the journal Physical Review Letters. “It’s analogous to the difference between snapping a picture with a single pixel and doing it with a camera–this is like a 6-megapixel camera.”

“You can have a tremendous amount of information in a pulse of light, but normally if you try to buffer it, you can lose much of that information,” says Ryan Camacho, Howell’s graduate student and lead author on the article. “We’re showing it’s possible to pull out an enormous amount of information with an extremely high signal-to-noise ratio even with very low light levels.”

Optical buffering is a particularly hot field right now because engineers are trying to speed up computer processing and network speeds using light, but their systems bog down when they have to convert light signals to electronic signals to store information, even for a short while.

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Entry filed under: Technology.

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