Quantum physics is hard stuff. If it was easy it’d be called Quantum Hide And Seek (don’t get me started on dual-pole free bases). We here at Gabbing Geek don’t want you to miss out on the latest scientific discoveries just because you don’t know the difference between a quark and Quark.
But we want you to appear much, much smarter than you actually are–we call it the Watson Lift. And we’re going to help you out by explaining this new discovery recently reported by the University of Glasgow.
If you’ve never been to Glasgow it looks a little like this.
That’s not to say Glasgow is always so cold and wet. Sometimes it gets windy too.
Scientists at the University of Glasgow spend a lot of time thinking up experiments to keep them locked up in the laboratory so they don’t have to go outside. So when a group of physicists said “Hey, team, the one universal thing that nobody in physics would ever think to test is the speed of light in a vacuum because we all know that’s constant. So let’s come up with lots of experiments measuring it and we can stay inside!” the rest of the team promptly lifted their heads off their desks long enough to nod in agreement before going back to sleep for eight months.
After a Red Bull was mistakenly dropped into the community pitcher that typically holds a mixture of Guinness and tears, some of the lab crew actually rustled up enough energy to put some experiments together. And they ended up discovering something new. They had to wipe the years of sleep nuggets out of their eyes to confirm the findings, but when they did there was a party in the University of Glasgow labs unlike any since the time they created the first haggis-powered laser.
Light is made up of photons. When light, or the stream of photons that you plebeians call light, passes through an object that impedes its travel then it slows down. Think of a glass of water. The light goes through it, but while in the water it travels a bit slowly. Once it exits the water it slams back up to the speed of light like a muscle car in a Fast and Furious movie. Scottish scientists discovered that if you send a beam of light through a mask you could actually slow down that beam of light even after it went through the mask. Just to clarify, a mask here is a device that lets you structure light by changing the shape of its wave. Not this:
Our previous understanding of light was that once it exited the mask it would resume its speedy course towards whatever it was going to collide with, but those Scottish scientists proved otherwise. The mask will slow that light down just like that brick wall slows down the Kool-Aid man when he bursts through in an explosion of sugar and awesomeness. They verified these results by racing two photons–one had gone through a mask first and the other had not. The masked photon lost the race every time.
And photon-changing masks are not always sophisticated pieces of equipment. A magnifying glass will change the shape of light. Meaning if you ever used one to burn ants then you were actually prolonging the ants’ agony by slowing down the light that charred their insides. Nice, you sick bastard.
If you’d like to verify the results yourself all you need is a magnifying glass, a flashlight, and a vacuum-packed wide-spectrometer timing detector suitable of measuring individual photons to nearest 10x-15 second. Or you can just take the Scottish scientists’ word for it.