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CREOL, The College of Optics & Photonics

Paper by Professor Demetrios Christodoulides et al published in Nature Physics

A paper by Mohammad-Ali MiriDemetrios N. Christodoulides and others, titled Optical diametric drive acceleration through action–reaction symmetry breaking has been published in Nature Physics.

"Newton’s third law of motion is one of the pillars of classical physics. This fundamental principle states that the forces two bodies exert on each other are equal and opposite. Had the resulting accelerations been oriented in the same direction, this would have instead led to a counterintuitive phenomenon, that of diametric drive. In such a hypothetical arrangement, two interacting particles constantly accelerate each other in the same direction through a violation of the action–reaction symmetry. Although in classical mechanics any realization of this process requires one of the two particles to have a negative mass and hence is strictly forbidden, it could nevertheless be feasible in periodic structures where the effective mass can also attain a negative sign. Here we report the first experimental observation of such diametric drive acceleration for pulses propagating in a nonlinear optical mesh lattice. The demonstrated reversal of action–reaction symmetry could enable altogether new possibilities for frequency conversion and pulse-steering applications."

Their research was also highlighted in UCF Today:

More than three centuries ago, Isaac Newton in his Principia stated that for any action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The ramifications of this law of motion are now being reconsidered by a team of researchers from the University of Central Florida and Germany who recently carried out an optical experiment that one day may help lead to new propulsion systems.

“This counterintuitive process, which involves the concept of negative mass, mimics the behavior of a diametric drive,” said Professor Demetrios Christodoulides of UCF’s College of Optics and Photonics. “Even though ideas of this sort have been around for several years, they have never been successfully pursued because mass in nature is always a positive quantity.” Diametric drive refers to the possibility of a self-contained, space-propulsion engine that operates without the need for any external fuel.

The study “Optical diametric drive acceleration via action-reaction symmetry breaking” recently published on the website of Nature Physics and was part of a project with other partner universities. Mohammad-Ali Miri, a UCF graduate student in the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL), also participated in this work.

As everyone in introductory physics courses knows, Newton’s third law of motion states that the forces two bodies exert on each other are equal and opposite. As a result, two bodies of positive mass tend to accelerate toward each other when this pair of forces happens to be attractive.

However, if one of the two particles were to have a negative mass, this hypothetical arrangement would set up a system where the leading particle would constantly be “chased” by the trailing particle.

“Under these conditions, two interacting bodies will indefinitely accelerate in the same direction while keeping a constant distance between themselves,” the study says. “Of course, given that in real life the mass of a particle is always positive, no such acceleration behavior that breaks the action-reaction symmetry has ever been reported.”

In their experiment with the University of Erlangen-Nuernberg in Germany, the researchers used light pulses in a figure 8, fiber-optic platform to create the effect of attractive and repulsive forces.

“In the lab, one can create photon pulses with effective positive or negative masses,” Ali Miri said. “They [pulses] could start chasing each other until reaching relativistic limits.”

He said the concept of negative mass is not restricted to photons. Similar experiments can be performed in other settings, for example with electrons in crystalline solids.

“While a realization of a Star Trek warp drive space-propulsion engine still remains a dream, the demonstrated optical diametric drive can provide new strategies in accelerating and steering optical pulses,” Christodoulides said. “This may have an impact on how one can control light in tomorrow’s optical networks.”

Posted Thursday, October 31, 2013

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