Spinning glass ball rejects light from one direction

Enlarge / Not a turbine-powered optical isolator (but James Murphy may like the term to use for a side project). (credit: Noam Galai / Getty Images)

Today I would like to present the turbine-powered optical isolator, a steampunk-sounding bit of hardware that only allows light to pass in one direction. That, I must admit, is a sentence I never imagined writing. 

It turns out that having components that only allow light to flow one way is really important. I’ve personally managed to destroy more than one laser because some of the light it emitted ended up returning to the hardware and wreaking havoc. Even if you don’t destroy anything, back reflections can still mess experiments up. So optical isolators, as they are called, are really important.

They are also big and expensive. To reduce the cost and size, researchers have demonstrated an optical oscillator that only requires an operating turbine to function. Despite being the least practical isolator ever, I still want one, maybe even two. In fact, give me three since I happen to be here anyway. 

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