Chip curves space-time

Material could help model general relativity in the lab

LIGHT BENDER The gravitational field of a massive stellar object bends light on the left. To the right, a microsphere (purple) on a computer chip (green) mimics the warping of light (from lasers, red arrows) by a gravitational field.

C. Sheng et al/Nature Photonics 2013

A computer chip has added its curve to space-time.

Chinese scientists simulated a light-warping effect, called gravitational lensing, with a thin layer of plastic and a computer chip that uses light instead of electricity.

Gravitational lensing occurs in space when large masses, like stars, bend and distort rays from background light sources, such as galaxies. To mimic the effect, the researchers manipulated the thickness of the plastic on the chip, changing how fast the light traveled through the material. The results appear September 29 in Nature Photonics.

Unfortunately, the chip model of gravitational lensing can’t quite re-create a black hole’s huge pull on light. But, the lab-based lenser could help scientists study the warping of space-time and, consequently, Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, a little closer to home.

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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