back to article Boffins build 'slow glass' light-trapping nanodoughnut

Warwickshire boffins believe they may be on the track of science-fiction "slow glass", through which light might take a long time to travel. The scientists think that such light-storing materials might be fashioned using excitons mounted inside unfeasibly tiny "quantum doughnuts". In essence it seems that an exciton is an …


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  1. Secretgeek


    ....too many innuendos!

    'Slippery exciton', 'unfeasibly tight ring'

    giggity, giggity.

    I am such a child.

    I'll get my coat.

  2. Anonymous Coward


    Excitons? Quantum nano-doughnuts? is someone having a laugh??

  3. Luther Blissett

    Doh nuts'r'us

    I haven't read Shaw, but how did he say the Cerenkov radiation issue was solved?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A title,

    Get on a uk train, stare out the windows and you'll see slow glass in action

  5. Oliver Mayes
    Thumb Up

    Sounds great

    So how long til I can get all my house windows replaced with it? Nice daylight views visible during the night (although I suppose it'd look dark during the day, and anyone looking in through the windows would see the insides as they were x hours ago. Great for confusing my enemies.

  6. Pete Silver badge

    still incoherent

    The big flaw in Shaw's book was his explanation of how a coherent image was formed in the "slow glass". Since all the light from everything the glass can "see" impinges on the whole pane and then travels through and will be emitted omnidirectionally on the other side, there is no possibility of extracting an image from it (unless you buy his rather grasping-at-straws explanation).

    Any practical use of this stuff, presuming it ever makes it into the real world, would be severely limited by this problem.

  7. Luke Watson

    Buffer Overflow

    how do they store all the photons? is it a one in one out system? im worried they might get a buffer overflow.

    and yeah, 'unfeasibly tight ring' heh heh.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ...the Brass Eye "light brick" is almost a reality.

  9. xjy
    Paris Hilton


    That's the way to do it!

    Oh no it isn't!

    Oh yes it is!

    Oh no it isn't....

    Etc ad infinitum...

    (Paris, who else?, cos she's probably already tried quanto nano-rings, or got someone to do it for her while she watches with mild curiosity on the other side of the glass, Bitches! :-)

  10. Christopher E. Stith

    why abuse "unfeasibly"?

    If it's common for these things to be made quite by accident, how is it they are unfeasible? It sounds as if they are more feasible than the product from which they are an erroneous castoff.

  11. John Smith Gold badge

    Would calling it a variable optical delay line help?

    The RF and acoustic versions of these have various uses as memory devices (EG old dumb terminals and RADAR receivers) and it's possible to make them out of discrete components. This has never been possible with light except in the clumsiest of ways.

    A litteral interpretation of it as Bob Shaw's slow glass (never got round to this one. Read most of his others) maybe reaching.


  12. Anonymous Coward


    You do know Shaw's book was a work of fiction, right?

    It isn't meant to be a physics textbook, just an entertaining story.

    I expect you must have been very disappointed when you found out that tank engines don't really speak or have faces.

  13. Sam

    Sad Ending

    If I remember correctly from the story as it was published in Interzone magazine, there were some rather tragic effects of slow glass in that since it worked both ways events which you may wish to forget can resurface many days/months/years later.


  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A brilliant example of Speculative Fiction

    I read an awful lot of of Science Fiction in my teens. The concept of "Slow Glass" is one of the things that has stuck with me ever since. As an example of pure "speculative fiction" it is heard to beat - a concept that is very simple to describe, and that can be understood by anyone, and that has a significant societal impact (the surveillance society mentioned in the article, scenery farms where sheets of slow glass with a period of years are set up to trap the view from a lake or a field, later to be hung in offices or living rooms, etc).

  15. Pete Silver badge

    @Anonymous Coward

    > You do know Shaw's book was a work of fiction, right?

    Err, yes. The clue is in the name of the genre: Science Fiction. Now when you get round to reading the article, you'll notice a couple of phrases:

    Such technology was imagined by renowned sci-fi scribe Robert Shaw .... and

    .... could offer something on these lines ...

    which when taken together (as you can safely presume, since they're in the same article) could lead to the conclusion that "slow glass"'s ability to reproduce images was on the cards. It's not, as the properties of the material wouldn't allow it to produce a coherent image. However, one of the side-effects of slow glass, and the main tenet of the book, was that it led to the ultimate surveillance society - something we probably are headed towards, just not like that.

  16. Kanhef


    Does the released photon travel in the same direction as the incoming one, or is it emitted in a random direction? If it's the latter, this isn't nearly as useful.

  17. Stewart Haywood

    Sloe Gin

    I made sloe gin once. Perhaps becasue I used a fast glass it had the same effect as ordinary gin.

  18. Steve Roper

    @ Kanhef

    That's the issue Pete was discussing in his previous two posts:

    "Since all the light from everything the glass can "see" impinges on the whole pane and then travels through and will be emitted omnidirectionally on the other side, there is no possibility of extracting an image from it"

    Pete's hypothesis analyses the light striking the outer surface of the glass as a wave, which is then propagated through the slow glass and transmitted omnidirectionally when it emerges on the other side. Considered as a particle, this means that any given photon would be transmitted in either a random direction or from a random location in relation to its location and the direction it was travelling when it entered the glass.

    Given the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which in essence states that you cannot simultaneously observe the momentum and position of a quantum particle, Pete's hypothesis would be correct.

    Consider a photon travelling at C through a vacuum in a certain direction: this photon has a determinate momentum. Therefore, it can be predicted to pass through a given point in space at a given time. However, when the photon enters the "slow glass", it combines with an electron to form an exciton, as the article states. The momentum of this exciton is equal to the vector sum of the momentum of both electron and photon, and is thus changed from both. Furthermore, because this exciton is being constrained to follow a curved path in space by means of the "quantum doughnut" or torus, its momentum is constantly changing as long as it is in the torus - because the direction component of the momentum vector is constantly changing as it moves along the curve of the torus.

    So in order to release the photon so that it is travelling in a determinate direction from a determinate location, which is required to recreate the image "seen" at the entrance point, would require that both the position *and* direction (that is, momentum) be determined at the same time - the very proposition that the Uncertainty Principle states cannot be achieved. Since this is the case, either the photon would be released in a determinate direction from an indeterminate position, or it would be released from a determinate position in an indeterminate direction.

    Therefore, to answer your question, it is possible that the outgoing photon could travel in the same direction as the incoming one, but then it would be from a different location. If it were in the same location, it would then be a different direction. Ergo, no image, either way.

  19. Anonymous Coward



  20. Maliciously Crafted Packet

    Faster than light travel?

    Er, what if, right... you fired a gun at a sheet of slow glass and the velocity off the bullet exceeded the speed of the slow downed light.

    Would the bullet end up travelling faster than the speed of light. Or would it gain so much mass and stop, thus making the ultimate bullet proof glass?

    Could I patent that idea and get rich from it?

  21. Max_Normal

    Maybe not such a new idea?

    Is this not a similar concept to electron trapping in phosphor crystals? We have cassettes with phosphor screens in them in our lab. You put in a dried electrophoresis gel labelled with a radioactive isotope (say P32 or S35) and the radiation promotes electrons to higher energy electron orbitals (e.g. makes "exitons") which due to the nature of phosphor electron orbitals stay there until given an extra jolt of light in a phosphorimager (something like a giant digital scanner that you put the screens onto), after which they release a perfect image of the radioactive areas of the gel.

    A similar concept is used for image intensifiers (such as found in real-time x-ray machines and night vision goggles), although in this case phosphor crystals are used to convert light to a high energy electron beam in a vacuum tube, and then back to light after amplification.

    These concepts have been in general use for decades so maybe not quite so sci-fi after all, just a higher-tech version of an old invention?

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