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Visit with Jim – Light Moves backwards?

Photonic Echoes

“Creativity Takes Courage”  Henri Matisse 

Light’s Backward Leap According to Robert Boyd’s Research For me, the entry point into photography was, and is, an artistic endeavor.  The scientist in me pulls at me to learn more and understand the fundamental component of my artwork, the behavior of light, in a … new light.  It is the fastest known entity in the universe, carrying color to our brain through our eyes and acting as a yardstick to measure and understand space and time. We’ve always assumed one simple fact: light travels forward and at a constant speed of 186,000 miles per second.  However, research has challenged this paradigm of light only moving forward, suggesting the possibility of light traveling backward. This intriguing concept is brought to us by the work of Robert Boyd, the M. Parker Givens Professor of Optics at the University of Rochester.

Quantum Physics and Time: In classical physics, certain laws are deemed time-reversal invariant, operating the same way whether time moves forward or backward. Yet, in our everyday world, certain phenomena seem to follow a one-way direction, known as the “arrow of time”. A broken cup can’t reassemble itself and time, as we perceive it, can’t reverse. However, the quantum realm, where tiny particles reside, operates differently. Particles can be in two places at once, bypass barriers, and instantly influence each other over vast distances. This strange world is where light may be capable of its backward journey.

Creativity is seeing what others see and thinking what no one else thought.”            Albert Einstein

Professor Robert Boyd, renowned for his pioneering work in optics, has made significant strides in understanding light’s behavior at the quantum level. His research primarily focuses on the phenomenon known as “phase conjugation. In phase conjugation, light can seemingly reverse its path when it encounters a special material known as a “phase conjugate mirror.” This mirror flips the phase of the light, sending it back to its origin. It’s as if the mirror “plays back” the light, much like rewinding a movie. Boyd’s team at the University of Rochester conducted experiments with a setup that included a phase conjugate mirror. In these experiments, they observed that under certain conditions, light could indeed appear to reverse its direction, challenging the long-held belief of light’s strictly forward motion.
CREDIT: University of Rochester
The implications of Boyd’s research and light’s backward travel are vast. For starters, it could revolutionize how information is transmitted and processed. We currently rely on light to carry data in fiber optic cables. With the ability to control the direction of light, we could see advances in this technology, resulting in quicker, more efficient communication networks.  Indeed, buffer systems exist to slow light down and allow for switches to move light through optical cables in an efficient manner and avoid the circumstance where two or more pulses from overlapping or canceling each other out.  More profoundly, light’s reverse motion could shed new light on our understanding of time itself. Could it provide fresh insights into the mysterious nature of time and the “arrow of time”? Could it bring us closer to unraveling some of the deepest enigmas of quantum physics?

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure” — Brene Brown

As we begin to comprehend the intricacies of light’s behavior, including its ability to potentially travel backward, we’re also exploring the development of more advanced light-based technologies. Particularly, these advancements are crucial in the field of optical computing and telecommunications, where concepts such as light buffer systems and switches are becoming increasingly significant.
Light buffer systems act as temporary storage for light, a concept that may seem counterintuitive given the high-speed nature of light. However, in the realm of data transmission, the ability to store and manage information before it’s forwarded is crucial for maintaining data integrity and efficient communication. 


With the advancements in understanding light’s quantum properties, like those in Robert Boyd’s research, scientists aim to create more sophisticated light buffer systems.

Similarly, light switches, which control the direction of light, hold immense potential in the realm of optical computing. Such switches could lead to the creation of faster, more energy-efficient computers that use light (photons) instead of electrons to process information. The possibility of light traveling backwards could contribute to the development of these optical switches, providing the ability to control light in entirely new ways.
This emerging field of photonics, with light buffer systems and switches, aims to revolutionize our current electronic systems, offering faster, more efficient communication and computation. As research deepens our understanding of light’s abilities, we’re certain to see even more remarkable advances in the near future.

The concept of light traveling backward, although still in the realm of advanced research, is a testament to the innovation within the field of quantum physics. Through the work of researchers like Robert Boyd, we continue to probe deeper into understanding our universe in ways previously unimaginable. This research serves as a humbling reminder that in science, absolutes are rare. Just as we thought we understood light’s behavior, the quantum world opens up the possibility of it traveling backward. The next time you see a beam of light, consider its potential journey. It might be moving forward, but in the heart of quantum mechanics, it could be retracing its steps. Next week perhaps how light can go slower than we previously knew.

“You can’t use up creativity.  The more you use, the more you have” Maya Angelou

Join me in a fireside chat via Zoom in the evening to discuss any aspect of my artwork.  To qualify, and join a video conversation send your contact information here and let me know what you would want to talk about.  The selected participants will receive a 25% discount on any of my unlimited edition pieces of art.  I will personally sign the piece at printing.  Even more, the gallery is offering this purchase risk free for you. Free shipping, Free return, and no questions asked if you are unhappy with the art work.  You can keep the print for 30 days to enjoy the selection in your home or office. This risk free offer does not apply to metal, acrylic and other specialized media prints.





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