Scientists Pursue Optical Breakthroughs That Could Boost Bandwidth, Free Space Optics

Two teams of researchers pursuing optical breakthroughs got a boost from the Optica Foundation, which gave each team $100,000 in grants. One team is looking at boosting bandwidth, while the other is looking to improve free space optics.

Optica is an American scientific society for optics and photonics.

Boosting Optical Bandwidth

A team led by Dr. Ying Xue from The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology aims to help networks become capable of processing the immense amount of data being produced globally.

The amount of data growth is so great that silicon-based integrated circuits and systems are becoming bottlenecks. Although some potential solutions have emerged, those solutions have been hampered by fabrication, production and economic constraints.

Xue and her team were awarded the grant for work on an integration method called lateral aspect ratio trapping (LART). According to a release issued by Optica Foundation, LART enables placement of high-performance lasers precisely where they are needed in a photonic integrated circuit.

Within six months, the researchers expect to conduct experiments to fine-tune and gather information on designs for electrically pumped lasers in silicon photonics.

“This is complex work, but it will address the issues of integrated photonics delivering on the promises of silicon photonics,” Xue said in a prepared statement.

“We are looking at the complete functionality of a photonic integrated circuit on silicon, enabling large bandwidth, low cost, and the integration of electronics on the same chip. It will open new opportunities in research and industry.”

Free Space Optics

A team led by Dr. Ahmed Dorrah from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is focused on making terahertz radiation for free space optical communications, which uses light propagating in free space to wirelessly transmit data traffic.

Terahertz radiation offers larger bandwidth than current wireless standards “with minimal external effects,” according to Optica. But using terahertz radiation has been hindered by the shortage of affordable cameras with the correct attributes to detect and read light signals.

By developing efficient schemes for sensing and generating THz beams, Dorrah believes he can leverage them for use in FSO communications and beyond.

The researchers aim to make terahertz communications practical by addressing that limitation. The research is on metasurfaces, which are flat optics structures “designed to control light, to convert any one-dimensional THz power detector array to a full two-dimensional wavefront camera for capturing light signals.”

In essence, the metasurface “performs a set of operations on incoming light and projects the result onto a power detector, enabling the full reading of the THz beam profile with high resolution and over broadband.”


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