01 August, 2009

Everything You Know is Wrong... Well, Maybe

Yesterday, I read an article I found on ( It was titled: Light and Matter United, and was originally published in the Harvard University Gazette, Feb. 7, 2007 ( The article focused on Professor Lene Hau and her team's discovering a way to slow light down to 38 MPH and back up to it's normal speed of 186,000 MPS.

I'm not sure why it took so long to get to Reddit other than that, if I'm reading it right, Professor Hau and her team have recently figured out how to bring light to a complete standstill, not just a measly 38 MPH.

So, why would I care about all that, you might ask? Well, Jim Voris, who lives over on Bay Shore Drive and I have had a few conversations regarding our layman's understanding of physics, etc., so this is one of those topics that caught our eyes necessitating an exchange of emails.

My initial email to Jim:

Here's an article that just seems to pull the present into the future, like right now. It's at:
Jim's response to my email was:
"Holy Shit Batman! This is awesome. Do you realize that a whole field of astro-physics could be set on it's ear by this. Imagine if all the distances they have Galaxy's at are wrong based on 186,000 if the light passes through a cold atom cloud!"
I think he had become a little excited about this topic. So, feeding the fires, I answered:
"Pretty fantastico, eh? And what, one wonders, are the chances of that happening on a galactic scale?"
Whereupon, Jim's response to me was:
I would say there would be a very good chance. Between galaxy is a lot of space, Cold is the absence of heat and even in our earth moon environment we have -230F in shadow. I would assume it is much colder "out there" where the sun don't shine. And then there are thought to be enormous "clouds" of hydrogen that certainly would coalesce by mutual attraction and gravity. Haa haa, if light from Andromeda Galaxy (said to be 200 million light-years away) - our closest Galaxy, should have to pass through one of these gas clouds mentioned, and slows to 38 mph a "light year" suddenly is a vastly less distance. Our scale would be totally off because we assumed light speed was constant. Now the distance in reality could be hundred's of millions of "light years" (miles) farther away. The term light-year would become a useless measurement. I would equate to saying the distance between Belize and Miami is two-hundred million row boats or 600 thousand bikes.( ten million walkers?)Well, you get the idea.
Food for thought. I would love to be at the men's group today and throw this out for discussion.
Taking the cue, I forwarded the article link to the Corozal Men's Group membership, since, at out meetings, we usually solve most if not all of the world's great problems, in addition to eating some junk food and drinking a few beers (similar to the President, I might add). It'll be interesting to see what sort of discussion develops at today's meeting.

Now, there's just a little bit more to report. I was so caught-up with this idea, that I felt compelled to get the straight dope, I went ahead and found the good professor's email address at Harvard and sent the question to Professor Hau:

Hello Professor Hau,

I read the Web article Light and Matter United, Harvard University Gazette, Feb. 7, 2007, yesterday July 31, 2009, after finding it on I forwarded it to a friend of mine (Jim Voris) who is intrigued as I am strictly as lay persons in this area.

Here's the text of an email I sent to him. I was hoping, if it's not too great an imposition, that you could fill in some of the gaps in my thinking.

I was thinking about all this. I looked up the following on wiki answers:

E=mc2 ; or m=E/c2
What this says is that Energy is exactly equivalent to some Mass multiplied by a very huge number which is c X c.
Here is one application (this is how the Sun makes energy by turning hydrogen into helium!):
4 hydrogen atoms weighs 4 X 1.0079 atomic mass units. This is 4.0316.
These fuse into one helium atom which is 4.0026 atomic mass units.
Some mass has been turned into energy. 4.0316-4.0026=.029 amu X c2 =E.
1 atomic mass unit = 1.66053886 × 10-27 kilograms. C=3X 108 meters, E=Joules.

So, looking at that, I got to thinking about velocity and acceleration. Since both velocity and acceleration require (I would think) some sort of energy to increase or decrease either, then when Professor Hau slows down light to 38 MPH or even stops it, there would seem to have to be given off a certain amount of energy. I would think from the standard speed of light that we know and love, 186,000 MPS to 38 MPH or to 0 MPH, that there would be one hell of a lot of energy to bleed off.

Conversely, to get those photons or whatever, to accelerate back up to 186,000 MPS, would require input of a considerable amount of energy.

My question, if that assumption is right (or even close), is where does the energy go and where does it come from? I mean, if we split an atom, we get at the least a lot of heat and radiation and possibly a rather large boom, so why isn't there something like that when light is slowed or sped up so drastically? It sounds to me like theres a free lunch occurring somewhere here and I've always believed that there was no free lunch.

So, why doesn't Professor Hau's lab go up in a puff of smoke or something? Is there another dimension, perhaps, that the resultant energy (or whatever it is) goes to (the boom) or comes from (the opposite of a boom?)?

Does any of that make sense? If I'm off base, can you explain it to me?


Again, I hope this isn't too great an imposition, but we really would like to gain a bit more understanding of this issue. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Thanks and very sincerely,
David Rider
So, there you have it. Saturday morning brain cramps from Corozal. If the place implodes this afternoon, just blame it on the Men's Group for overextending their little gray cells.
You know, sometimes, you just get a little wild hair and you just have to scratch.

And we're not even going to talk about what I just read on the Intertubes about spinons and holons, a couple of new quantum particles discovered when scientists split an electron...


Lion Lady said...

Yo D & D:

I'm free, I'm free, at last I'm free. It was H_ll of a week, w/ temps up to 107 in Oly; packing up 25 yrs; signing out of "jail" and my boss (plus other groupies)& a cast of thousands attending a retirement party at Indian Summer Golf Club. Funny, you get to hear all the good things you did and are finally acknowledged the day you leave. LOL Looking forward to some R & R.

Julian in SC said...

I really wish I could make the Men's Meeting!!


Anonymous said...

Sounds like the beginning of a transporter. Matter into light and back into matter.

Dave Rider said...


I thought I answered your comment. Maybe I did via email. I hope so. Congrats on your freedom. Must have been a nice bash. Fancy digs out at Indian Summer. We had lunch there a couple of times with our financial advisor (on his dime) - getting ready to start this gig.
Yeah, I hear you. Would it have hurt management a lot, to have said some little thing over the years?
Take a good rest. You earned it.



When you get here, you're welcome to attend.



"Beam me up, Scotty." - Can't be far away now, eh?