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Putting Light's Light Touch to Work As Optics Meets Mechanics

Science  14 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5980, pp. 812-813
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5980.812

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Scientists have long used laser light to move atoms and molecules. But researchers are now using light to control the motion of larger humanmade objects built of materials like glass or silicon. A device must be both a fine "optical cavity" that rings with light and an outstanding "mechanical resonator" that, like a pitchfork, vibrates readily at a precise frequency. Researchers can then use light to control vibrations or vice versa. Such "cavity optomechanics" might be used to coax vibrating machines to hum to the odd rules of quantum mechanics, which ordinarily govern the realm of atoms and molecules. More practically, optomechanical widgets might process optical signals or serve as frequency standards. One team has even used them to make a kind of laser for vibrations. Other exciting results are sure to come, researchers say.