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A new study predicts that researchers could use spiraling pulses of laser light to change the nature of graphene, turning it from a metal into an insulator and giving it other peculiar properties that might be used to encode information.

The results, published May 11 in Nature Communications, pave the way for experiments that create and control new states of matter with this specialized form of light, with potential applications in computing and other areas.

"It's as if we're taking a piece of clay and turning it into gold, and when the laser pulse goes away the gold goes back to clay," said Thomas Devereaux, a professor at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and director of the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES), a joint SLAC/Stanford institute.

"But in this case," he said, "our simulations show that we could theoretically change the electronic properties of the graphene, flipping it back and forth from a metallic state, where electrons flow freely, to an insulating state. In digital terms this is like flipping between zero and one, on and off, yes and no; it can be used to encode information in a computer memory, for instance. What makes this cool and interesting is that you could make electronic switches with light instead of electrons."

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