The New “Information Superhighway”
What if you could transfer information at speeds that are hundreds, thousands, and even more times faster than the current standard?
Instead of kilobytes per second, think terabytes per second. The difference is a matter between words on a document and libraries in a giant building.
Imagine downloading not one song or movie, but a century’s worth of whole genres of music or film… in under a second.
Imagine what it would mean for businesses. Take, for example, a company that specializes in personalized medicine… You swab the inside of your mouth for a DNA sample, deposit it for analysis, and get results on your ancestry –going back thousands of years –all in a single day!
That would bring an end to physically shipping hard drives of data across the world (yes that is happening right now).
Well you don’t have to imagine any more… because this “what if” scenario is now feasible.
One international research group associated with University of Bristol made a “quantum leap” in fiber optics technology. And with help from the marketplace, it could change communication systems around the world. The team has essentially boosted the “torque” that light has on matter… making the “information superhighway” you’re using right now look like a parking spot in comparison. Theoretically, the amount of information that can move at these high speeds is limitless.
So how are they doing it?
They’ve done two things: used a more sophisticated form of light, and designed a better (and smaller) microchip to receive that light.
In optics, people used to think that light rays travel in straight lines… that’s true for plainer waves.
But there are other modes of light propagation. The researchers used light rays that travel in a specific orbital pattern, twisting around a central axis as the light propagates forwards. In other words, they changed the shape of its path, or its orbital angular momentum (OAM).
You could also use the analogy of a screw going into a wall as opposed to a nail. Depending on the material the wall is made from, a drill using a screw usually goes in much cleaner than a nail gun shooting in a nail. Information is obviously indescribably more complicated and delicate than stuff in a wall, so it requires a more precise way of being absorbed.
This allows the microchips to receive the light more efficiently and collect more information from it.
OAM itself was “created” 20 years ago… a previous chip used by bell labs used many wave guides in a circular fashion… but very few companies have taken advantage of this new method because their chips weren’t designed properly.
Likewise, current optical fibers probably can’t support this transmission, and we’ll therefore have to use new ones… but there are new fibers being developed by new vendors.
The generation of these light beams has long relied on bulk optical elements such as plates, lenses, and holograms. These are fine for research, but when it comes to other applications where large quantities of beams are needed at high packing density, it’s simply inconvenient and inefficient. What makes the team’s application work is that they’ve coupled this special form of light with small sized, compact, and altogether more robust chips. The new emitters are micrometres instead of millimeteres in size, and thousands of times smaller than conventional elements.
Dr Mark Thompson, Deputy Director of the Centre for Quantum Photonics at the University of Bristol, added: “Perhaps one of the most exciting applications is the control of twisted light at the single photon level, enabling us to exploit the quantum mechanical properties of optical vortices for future applications in quantum communications and quantum computation.”
This research is truly extraordinary, and as entrepreneurs catch onto these “advances fresh out of of the lab, they’ll race to incorporate them into companies before their competitors. Who will get there first?
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