Light is versatile in nature. In other words, it shows different characteristics when traveling through different types of materials. This property has been explored with various technologies, but the way in which light interacts with materials needs to be manipulated to get the desired effect. This is done using special devices called light modulators, which have the ability to modify the properties of light.

One such property, called the Pockels effect, is seen when an is applied to the medium through which travels. Normally, light bends when it hits any medium, but under the Pockels effect, the refractive index of the medium (a measure of how much the light bends) changes proportionally to the applied electric field. This effect has applications in optical engineering, optical communication, displays and electric sensors. But, exactly how this effect occurs in different materials is not clear, making it difficult to fully explore its potential.

In a breakthrough study published in OSA Continuum, a team of scientists led by Prof Eiji Tokunaga at the Tokyo University of Science shed light on the mechanism of the Pockels effect in a new type of light modulator. Until recently, this effect had been observed in only a special type of crystal, which is costly and hence difficult to use. Twelve years ago, Prof Tokunaga and his team observed this effect for the first time in the top layer (also called the interfacial layer) of water when it is in contact with an electrode. The effect is not observed in the bulk of water.

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