Wednesday, 18 December 2019 10:48

Light can experience multiple dimensions with new optical tech

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Professor Andrey Sukhorukov and Dr Kai Wang at The Australian National University. Professor Andrey Sukhorukov and Dr Kai Wang at The Australian National University. Courtesy ANU

Scientists from the Australian National University, the University of Rostock in Germany, the University of Central Florida in the US and UNSW Canberra have devised a new way to design optical chips so that light can experience multiple dimensions.

They say this could underpin the creation of platforms for advanced communications and ultra-fast AI technologies.

In a statement from the ANU, Professor Andrey Sukhorukov, who led the development of new theoretical concepts with scientists at the Nonlinear Physics Centre of the ANU Research School of Physics, said: "Light can evolve in up to seven dimensions on our specially designed circuits, which is mind boggling when you realise that the space around us is three-dimensional."

Professor Alexander Szameit from the University of Rostock, who led the experimental work, including the cutting-edge fabrication of optical circuits, said: “Making use of higher dimensions on optical chips could support a variety of future technologies that involve machine learning and performing complex tasks autonomously."

Dr Kai Wang, who worked on key aspects of the project, said enabling light to travel beyond our three-dimensional space was a major breakthrough that would drastically enhance the capability of today’s optical chips.

optics art

An artist’s impression of light in higher-dimensional networks realised on a two-dimensional optical circuit. Photo: Dr Kai Wang and Lukas Maczewsky

“High-dimensional network structures can be found in human brains – if optical circuits can emulate this, their computation capability will also be boosted dramatically,” he said.

“This takes us into the realm of science fiction, which I think is really exciting. The sky is the limit in terms of potential future applications that could build on our discovery.”

Lukas Maczewsky, a doctoral student who performed the experiments at University of Rostock, said it could be used to develop optical switches and sensors that could respond very quickly to transmit or block light.

“Our work is an important step towards creating an ultra-compact and energy-efficient platform for optical networks,” Maczewsky said.

“Light can travel inside the circuits on an optical chip but, on a mass-scale, circuits are most efficiently made within one plane – just like roads without overpasses.

"Without the need to build overpasses on planar circuits, we make better use of the cross-talks of light between neighbouring pathways to engineer the behaviour of light.”

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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