MadSci Network: Physics

Re: could light behave as a helix or double helix?

Date: Thu Mar 1 14:11:06 2001
Posted By: Ronald Fisch, Physics, Washington University
Area of science: Physics
ID: 982588304.Ph

As you probably know already, if we ignore the effects of
gravity (which are very weak except near VERY heavy objects like stars),
light in a vacuum travels in straight lines.  However, by using objects
like lenses and mirrors, we can make a beam of light follow just about
any path we want to.  So if I wanted to make a light beam travel around
a helix (or any other shape that doesn't bend too fast), the way I would
do it is by bending a glass optical fiber into the shape that I wanted
the light to follow.  Then I merely have to shine the light in one end
of the fiber, and it will travel along it and come out the other end.

If I do this experiment of making light travel through a helix of optical
fiber, something very interesting happens.  The direction of the
polarization of the light is rotated by the helix!  This is an example
of an effect called Berry's phase.

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