Scientists create new rainbow colors

Benise P. Balaoing

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A University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) research team has generated 11 new colors of the rainbow using lasers and ion cascades

MANILA, Philippines – Kids, say goodbye to ROYGBIV.

Everyone’s trusty shortcut to memorizing the colors of the rainbow–red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet–will soon be a thing of the past.

A University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) research team has generated 11 new colors of the rainbow using lasers and ion cascades, a report from the Science Daily said.

In a UCSB press release dated March 28, Mark Sherwin, one of the physicists who made the groundbreaking discovery described it as “a very remarkable phenomenon.” He adds, “I have never seen anything like this before.”

Sherwin is the director of the USCB’s Institute for Terahertz Science and Technology.

NO MORE ROYGBIV. Artist's rendition of the University of California Santa Barbara experiment experiment that produced new colors in the rainbow spectrum Photo courtesy of USCB

The scientists aimed a pair of laser beams—one high frequency, the other low frequency—at a semiconductor.

The high frequency beam separates an electron from its host atom, creating a bonded pair consisting of an electron and positively-charged ion. The low frequency wave accelerates the freed electron, making it clash into the electron-less atom. 

Since the electron has extra energy from the acceleration, that energy is radiated as light—previously unseen frequencies of it. Each frequency corresponds to a different color.

The UCSB press release did not release a photo of the new spectrum. It included, however, an artist’s rendition of the experiment that created the new rainbow colors.

The technology, according to the press release, has the potential to significantly increase the speed of data transfer in fiber optic cables, such as in Internet connections.

TRUE COLORS. Ben Zaks (left) and Mark Sherwin, creators of the new rainbow colors. Photo courtesy of USCB

Ben Zaks, a USCB doctoral student and lead author of the paper, explained how: “Think of your cable Internet. The cable is a bundle of fiber optics, and you’re sending a beam with a wavelength that’s approximately 1.5 microns down the line. But within that beam there are a lot of frequencies separated by small gaps, like a fine-toothed comb. Information going one way moves on one frequency, and information going another way uses another frequency. You want to have a lot of frequencies available, but not too far from one another.”

The team hopes to develop it to run on a high-frequency transistor. “This is where we could really see this working to increase the speed of optical modulation, which is how you get information down a cable line,” Zaks added. –

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