Scientists said yesterday that they had achieved a long-sought goal of slowing waves of light to a relatively leisurely pace and using those harnessed pulses to store an image.

Physicists said the new approach to taming light could hasten the arrival of a futuristic era in which computers and other devices will process information on optical beams instead of with electricity, which for all its spark is still cumbersome compared with light.

This is big — read the story to see why this new approach is a breakthrough — but I’d rather they were able to push the speed of light way up, thus enabling fast interstellar travel . . . .

UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive: Reader Stephen Waters sends this report (see the box toward the bottom):

ringing light to a standstill is not the only effect that a laser-manipulated atomic gas can have on a light pulse. Last year Lijun Wang and co-workers at the NEC Research Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, pushed the speed of an electromagnetic pulse to greater than the speed of light in vacuum by passing the pulse through a chamber filled with caesium gas . . .

When a carefully tuned probe pulse was then fired into the medium, its speed became greater than the vacuum light speed. In fact, the pulse appeared to come out of the medium 60 ns before it entered!

However, Einstein’s general theory of relativity was not violated because information – due to quantum-mechanical fluctuations – cannot be carried faster than the vacuum light speed, even by the superluminal light pulses.

A long way from warp-drive still, alas.