Breakthrough: The branched flow of light observed for the first time

Ph.D. student Anatoly (Tolik) Patsyk and postdoctoral fellow Miguel A. Bandres, from Technion – Israel Institue of Technology, have experimentally observed the branched flow of light for the first time. The team was led by Technion President Professor Uri Sivan and Distinguished Professor Mordechai (Moti) Segev of the Technion’s Physics and Electrical Engineering Faculties, the Solid State Institute, and the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute. The research team’s findings are published in the journal Nature.

What is a branched flow of light?

When waves travel through a medium that contains disturbances, they naturally scatter in multiple directions. If the length over which the disturbances vary is much larger than the wavelength, the waves form channels of enhanced intensity that continue to divide or branch out as the wave propagates. This phenomenon is referred to as branched flow. This branched flow was first observed in electrons in 2001. It has been suggested to occur for all waves in nature. Now the researchers from Technion have experimentally observed the branched flow in light.

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The team shot a laser beam through a soap bubble, which contains random variations in membrane thickness. Instead of scattering, the light formed elongated branches, creating the branched flow phenomenon. Initially, the researchers intend to measure something completely different. When they encountered the branched flow, they upgraded their experiments to study and isolate the physics involved.

According to distinguished Prof. Moti Segev, this observation is significant and opens up exciting possibilities. These light branches can be used to control the fluidic flow in liquid, or fluorescent material can be combined with the soap to make the branches behave like little lasers. The soap membranes can also be used to explore the fundamentals of wave transition to branched flow.

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