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Catching microwaves in a random trap.

Two physicists have managed to trap individual photons of microwave radiation inside a copper tube containing a jumble of aluminum spheres. This result marks the first observation of "photon localization in a random three-dimensional sample," say Azriel Z. Genack and Narciso Garcia of Queens College of the City University of New York in Flushing.

The researchers studied the effect by sending microwaves at a frequency between 18.5 and 19.5 megahertz down the length of a 7.3-centimeter-wide copper tube partially filled with aluminum and Teflon balls roughly the size of unpopped popcorn kernels. Two detectors situated 2.5 centimeters apart at one end of the copper tube recorded the intensity of the emerging beam. Close scrutiny of the intensity measurements, made by the pair of detectors as the tube rotates, reveals remarkable fluctuations, which can be interpreted as evidence of photon trapping. These "localized" photons behave as if they were particles caught for long periods of time at particular sites among the metal spheres. However, this trapping occurs only for a narrow range of microwave frequencies and certain concentrations of aluminum balls.

The precise mechanism responsible for causing the trapping remains unknown. "The results of Genack and Garcia should hasten us towards understanding the physics of waves in disordered media," concludes physicist J.B. Pendry of Imperial College in London, England, in a commentary in the June 6 NATURE. Genack and Garcia originally reported their results in the Apr. 22 PHYSICAL REVIEW LETTERS.
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Title Annotation:individual photons of microwave radiation trapped for the first time
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 27, 1991
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