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Electrical engineers at Duke University have developed a material that allows them to manipulate light in much the same way that electronics manipulate flowing electrons.

The researchers say the results of their latest proof-of-concept experiments could lead to the replacement of electrical components with those based on optical technologies. Light-based devices would enable faster and more efficient transmission of information, much in the same way that replacing wires with optical fibers revolutionized the .

The breakthrough revolves around a novel man-made structure known as a metamaterial. These exotic are not so much a single substance, but an entire structure that can be engineered to exhibit properties not readily found in nature. The structure used in these experiments resembles a miniature set of tan Venetian blinds.

When light passes through a material, even though it may be reflected, refracted or weakened along the way, it is still the same light coming out. This is known as linearity.

"For highly intense light, however, certain 'nonlinear' materials violate this rule of thumb, converting the incoming energy into a brand new at twice the original frequency, called the second-harmonic," said Alec Rose, graduate student in the laboratory of David R. Smith, William Bevan Professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering.

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Category: Science