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Wednesday, 06 April 2011 17:44

CUDOS photonics research promises vast improvements in Internet performance

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Innovation minister, senator Kim Carr, has officially kicked of a six year $23.8m research program into photonic chip technology at the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems. (CUDOS) that has the potential to revolutionise optical communications.

CUDOS is a collaboration between seven Australian universities with photonic research programs - The University of Sydney, ANU, Macquarie University, Swinburne University of Technology, RMIT, Monash University and UTS and is s one of a small number of flagship research centres funded under the Australian Research Council's prestigious Centres of Excellence program.

The funding was announced in July 2010 at which time its director, professor Ben Eggleton, said: "The Centre will take the next big step in optical systems by transforming photonic integrated circuits into a technology that will have a profound effect on economies and lifestyles around the world.

"This will enable the Internet to transfer vast amounts of data with significantly improved energy efficiency; it will lead to secure transmission using quantum photonics-based devices, and to the detection of mid-infrared signatures of light from distant stars and complex molecules of environmental or biochemical importance. We will achieve this by developing functional metamaterials with optical properties to control light and engineering them into miniature photonic processors."

CUDOS was established in 2003 with initial funding to 2010 and the additional $23.8m will fund it to 2017. According to its web site "CUDOS is about to enter the most exciting stage of its history. CUDOS 2011 - 2017 will build on its previous achievements by researching photonic chips for applications in quantum signal processing and mid infrared technologies as well as in high speed optical communications.

"CUDOS 2011 - 2017 will initiate a broad-ranging program in nanophotonics focusing on metamaterials and plasmonics, with the aim of developing miniature devices whose operation depends on optical characteristics that are unattainable with bulk materials. Hybrid integration, the marriage of dissimilar materials into one monolithic device, will be an active area of research, both to blend existing platforms used by CUDOS researchers into one device and to integrate the new classes of structured materials into existing platforms. The Research Program will cover theory and experiment from fundamental physics to engineering-level application."

The organisation announced its first breakthrough in 2005, claiming "CUDOS has developed a small plate of glass with a carefully engineered scratch in it that can regenerate a new clean [optical] signal from an old noisy one. The glass is just placed in the light flow. The 'smart' scratch first separates out the signal from the noise as the light is guided along it. The light then passes through a series of finely etched channels that recognise which bits are the separated signal and which bits are noise, and allow only the signal pulses past. Any noise is trapped by the channels."

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Three years later it claimed that thanks to its 'scratch' "our Internet is set to become 60 times faster than current Telstra networks. The scratch will mean almost instantaneous, error free and unlimited access to the Internet anywhere in the world."

Eggleton said at the time that the technology could enable switching of optical signals at terabit per second speeds. He told Exchange: "In the last few years we have started to get to the limit of electronic switching. What we have demonstrated is well beyond what is possible in electronics. It is a heroic result and demonstrates that these sorts of speeds are viable in next generation networks."

A year later, in 2009, CUDOS announced a third breakthrough, with Eggleton saying that CUDOS scientists had discovered that the same optical chip that performs switching could be used for monitoring of the signal, at very low cost. "What we have discovered is that this same photonic chip can incorporate not only switching functions but real time monitoring of traffic at these incredibly high speeds."

According to Eggleton "It is a very significant advance because up to now [signal monitoring] has not been possible and to do it on a monolithic chip that is potentially pretty low cost is very significant...What we will produce at the end of the day will produce an optical output that can be analysed with low speed low cost electronics."

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