The science and technology of using light particles (photons) to carry information over hair-thin fibers of glass (fiber-optics). Optical networks are the driving force behind broadband, and over the coming years, photonics will become as much a part of the popular lexicon as electronics is today.
Historical Perspective: Time travel, not in this universe? Sorry, science-fiction fans, time travel is impossible. That is the sobering conclusion, anyway, of a Hong Kong–based team of physicists in August 2011. They found that the maximum speed of a single photon, the basic unit of light, “obeys the traffic law of the universe,” Agence France-Presse reports. The photon cannot go faster than the speed of light--186,282 miles per second--and thus provides no way around the law of physics that an effect can’t come before its cause. Previously, scientists had noticed that in certain mediums, light appeared to exceed its set limit. But when the Hong Kong researchers shot photons through atoms chilled to one ten-thousandth of a degree above absolute zero, they could make more-precise measurements of the waves they generate in the material ahead of them. It turns out even those “optical precursors” can’t break the speed-of-light barrier. Lead researcher Du Shengwang says that means the “information carried by a single photon” can only exist in the present. But the finding doesn’t refute other prospects for time travel, such as “wormholes,” which could serve, in theory, as cosmic short-cuts between distant times and places.
More historical perspective: Forty-eight years after British physicist Peter Higgs predicted its existence, the Higgs boson was finally spotted by scientists at the CERN lab in Geneva. The "God particle" explains the existence of mass and backs up the Standard Model, the foundational theory of modern physics. "For physicists, this is the equivalent of Columbus discovering America," says physicist Themis Bowcock. The Higgs is evidence that an invisible energy field --activated shortly after the big bang, 13.7 billion years ago-- permeates the universe. Without it, all particles would zip chaotically through space like the mass-less photons that make up light. The Higgs field slows down certain types of particles, creating stars, planets, and life.