A new study published in Nature Physics describes how a team of scientists used a laser beam to gain access to long-lived sound waves in crystalline solids as the basis for a potentially new approach to information processing and storage. One of Northern Arizona University’s newest physicists, assistant professor Ryan Behunin, is a co-author of the study. In collaboration with scientists at Yale and the University of Rochester, he helped develop the theory describing these bulk crystalline optomechanical systems.

“Through an effect called ‘Brillouin scattering,’ an intense laser beam passing through a transparent medium can produce sound waves as well as new colors of light,” Behunin said. “This type of interaction between light and sound falls into a domain of physics called optomechanics. Within specially designed pristine crystalline systems at very low temperatures, Brillouin scattering can produce sound waves that persist very long times, much longer than at room temperature.

“This phenomenon is intriguing because the longer a sound wave lives, the more useful it can be for things such as precision sensors—or for use with quantum computers, systems that can achieve exponential speeds over your desktop computer for certain types of calculations.”

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