Imagine a cell phone charger that recharges your phone remotely without even knowing where it is; a device that targets and destroys tumors, wherever they are in the body; or a security field that can disable electronics, even a listening device hiding in a prosthetic toe, without knowing where it is.
The figure shown demonstrates secure communication with nonlinear time-reversal of two different UMD images using electromagnetic waves (signals) each sent through a complicated wave scattering environment (brown box in the middle). The black boxes represent time-reversed signals that are not reconstructed after being scattered.
While these applications remain only dreams, researchers at the University of Maryland have come up with a sci-fi seeming technology that one day could make them real. Using a time-reversal technique, the team has discovered how to transmit power, sound or images to a nonlinear object without knowing the object's exact location and without affecting objects around it.
"That's the magic of time reversal," says Steven Anlage, a university physics professor involved in the project. "When you reverse the waveform's direction in space and time, it follows the same path it took coming out and finds its way exactly back to the source."
The time-reversal process is less like living the last five minutes over and more like playing a record backwards, explains Matthew Frazier, a postdoctoral research fellow in the university's physics department. When a signal travels through the air, its waveforms scatter before an antenna picks it up. Recording the received signal and transmitting it backwards reverses the scatter and sends it back as a focused beam in space and time.
"If you go toward a secure building, they won't let you take cell phones," Frazier says, "So instead of checking everyone, they could detect the cell phone and send a lot of energy to to jam it." What differentiates this research from other time-reversal projects, such as underwater communication, is that it focuses on nonlinear objects such as a cellphone, diode or even a rusty piece of metal. When the altered, nonlinear frequency of nonlinear objects is recorded, time-reversed and retransmitted, it creates a private communication channel, because other objects cannot understand the signal.