Physicists in Germany say they have taken an important step towards the creation of ultrafast computers that use light instead of electrical signals to process information. The team has created the first compact electronic device that can measure the absolute phase of extremely short light pulses. While the device is first expected to find use in laser labs, it could someday play an important role in systems that use ultrashort light pulses to process information.
The work was done by Ferenc Krausz and colleagues of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching. In 2001 a team led by Krausz and colleagues generated and measured the first isolated light pulse lasting only attoseconds – just a billionth of a billionth of a second. Such pulses have since been used to study the motion of electrons inside atoms and they form the basis of the new and burgeoning field of "attosecond physics".