If you’ve ever wanted to edit an event from your history, then help may soon be at hand. Electrical engineers have used lasers to create a cloak that can hide communications in a 'time hole', so that it seems as if they were never sent. The method, published today in Nature, is the first that can cloak data streams sent at the rapid rates typically seen in telecommunications systems. It opens the door to ultra-secure transmission schemes, and may also provide a way to better shield information from noise corruption.
In 2010, Martin McCall, an optical physicist at Imperial College London, and his colleagues proposed that it may be possible to create temporal cloaks that carve out short windows in time during which operations can be carried out unnoticed. Their work built on the principles behind invisibility cloaks, which hide objects in space by channeling light rays around them. When viewed from a distance, the light appears to have traveled along a straight line, without having hit any intervening object.
Similarly, McCall and colleagues suggested that by pulling light waves apart in time, and then compressing them back together, it should be possible to create 'time pockets' in which to cloak events. In theory, this could enable “a whole new level of security” for data transmission along optical fibers, says Joseph Lukens, an electrical engineer at Purdue University in Indiana, and lead author of the latest study. “It doesn't just prevent eavesdroppers from reading your data — they wouldn’t even know there was any data there to hack.”
Last year, a team led by Alexander Gaeta, an optical physicist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, built the first working temporal cloak by manipulating laser pulses. But the time windows opened up too rarely to be able to hide data coming in at telecommunication rates.
To speed up the cloaking rate, Lukens and his colleagues exploited a wave phenomenon that was first discovered by British inventor Henry Fox Talbot in 1836. When a light wave passes through a series of parallel slits called a diffraction grating, it splits apart. The rays emanating from the slits combine on the other side to create an intricate interference pattern of peaks and troughs. Talbot discovered that this pattern repeats at regular intervals, creating what is now known as a Talbot carpet. There is also a temporal version of this effect in which you manipulate light over time to generate regular periods with zero light intensity, says Lukens. Data can be then be hidden in these holes in time.