On March 6th, researchers from the University of St. Andrews’ School of Physics and Astronomy developed a laser measurement technology that could have major implications for the fiber optics space.
The team, led by Professor Kishan Dholakia, created a low-cost device that can measure light wavelengths with an unprecedented degree of accuracy. Described in the peer-reviewed journal, Optics Letters, the breakthrough has major implications for quantum sensing technology and fiber cable capacity.
(warning: major scientific jargon ahead)
The revolutionary device can measure wavelength to the nearest attometer, which is 100x more precise than the next best technology. Being able to measure and influence wavelength is useful across many different applications, from identifying biological samples to cooling individual atoms.
In the world of fiber optics, being able to manipulate wavelength with such precision means data can be encoded for various channels at different wavelengths.
In other words, more fiber capacity for the same amount of cable.
Put in another way, Dr. Dholakia says:
“The principle of the wavemeter can be easily demonstrated at home. If you shine a laser pointer on a rough surface like a painted wall, or through a semi-transparent material like frosted sellotape, the laser gets scrambled into the grainy speckle pattern. If you move the laser or change any of its properties, the exact pattern you see will change dramatically. It’s this sensitivity to change that makes speckle a good choice for measuring wavelength.”
In addition, the team’s device is much more cost effective than existing technology, which can cost several tens of thousands of dollars. The St. Andrew’s wavemeter is small, only consisting of eight inches of optical fiber and a digital camera.
Lead author, Dr. Graham Bruce, articulates why their breakthrough is relevant in today’s world:
“There is major investment both in the UK and around the world at present in the development of a new generation of optical and quantum technologies, which promise to revolutionize the way we measure the world around us, the ways we communicate and the way we secure our digital information. Lasers and the way we measure and control their properties are central to this development, and we believe that our approach to measuring wavelength will have an important role to play.”
This story is a valuable reminder that fiber optics is the key to future digital communication. Researchers continue to invest time and money into the technology as demand for higher-capacity broadband internet also increases. Devices, such as those from the St. Andrew’s research lab, will help prepare us to meet sky-high future demand.