Mind & Matter


Transparent Iron

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An illustration of the electromagnetically induced transparency (EIT) effect in iron. Photo by DESY.

In their search to create faster computers, scientists have developed the capability to make opaque materials transparent. Researchers at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) have recently announced the transformation of iron into a transparent material using X-ray light. The effect occurs at an atomic scale, when a high-intensity synchrotron light source called the PETRA III is directed towards the atomic nuclei of a particular iron isotope (the Mössbauer isotope iron-57), which renders these nuclei transparent. This phenomenon is termed electromagnetically induced transparency (EIT), a technique used in laser physics to develop faster and more energy-efficient quantum computers.

“Our result of achieving transparency of atomic nuclei is virtually the EIT effect in the atomic nucleus,” says Dr. Ralf Röhlsberger at DESY. “Undoubtedly, there is still a long way to go until the first quantum light computer becomes reality. However, with this effect, we are able to perform a completely new class of quantum-optical experiments of highest sensitivity. With the European XFEL X-ray laser, currently being built in Hamburg, there is a real chance to control X-ray light with X-ray light.”



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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.