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Understanding how light waves oscillate in time as they interact with materials is essential to understanding light-driven energy transfer in materials, such as solar cells or plants. Due to the fantastically high speeds at which light waves oscillate, however, scientists have yet to develop a compact device with enough time resolution to directly capture them.

Now, a team led by MIT researchers has demonstrated chip-scale devices that can directly trace the weak electric field of light waves as they change in time. Their device, which incorporates a microchip that uses short laser pulses and nanoscale antennas, is easy to use, requiring no special environment for operation, minimal laser parameters, and conventional laboratory electronics.

The team’s work, published earlier this month in Nature Photonics, may enable the development of new tools for optical measurements with applications in areas such as biology, medicine, food safety, gas sensing, and drug discovery.

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