January 31, 2014

Making Color: When two red photons make a blue photon

Color is strange, mainly due to perception. Setting aside complex brain processes, what we see is the result of light absorption, emission, and reflection. Trees appear green because atoms inside the leaves are emitting and/or reflecting green photons. Semiconductor LED brake lights emit single color light when electrical current passes through the devices.

Here’s a question: Can scientists generate any color of light? The answer is not really, but the invention of the laser in 1960 opened new doors for this endeavor. An early experiment injected high-power laser light through quartz and out popped a different color. This sparked the field of nonlinear optics and with it, a new method of color generation became possible: frequency conversion.