A new optical device developed at UC Davis may be able to convert pulses of light faster into electronic signals than ever before, with possible applications for a faster Internet connection and better imaging of Earth.
Published in Nature Photonics, S.J. Ben Yoo, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and his team have spent the past three years inventing and developing the Optical Arbitrary Waveform Measurement (OAWM) device’s ability to measure light pulses at a faster rate – almost 10,000 times more than current technologies.
Funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, this device is part of a larger project started in 2005 involving the generation of arbitrary optical waveforms, otherwise known as light.
“[With this device,] we can now continuously measure the intensity and phase of arbitrary optical waveforms with bandwidths well beyond currently available high-speed electronics,” Yoo said.
Current technologies can measure light pulses in the tens of gigahertz bandwidth. The OAWM device is able to measure nearly 100 terahertz bandwidth.
The OAWM technology does this by partitioning the light signal’s spectrum into numerous spectral slices and processes them all at the same time with parallel receivers, Yoo said.
Higher frequency light pulses can transmit more information in certain time lengths. This makes the technology able to speed up information transmission for certain applications, such as fiber-optic communications and the Internet.
Information is transmitted by encoding the light wave’s amplitude, the height of the wave, and phase, how far left or right the wave slides. The faster the light wave can be encoded, the higher capacity of information can be transmitted, increasing connection bandwidth for the Internet, said Francisco Soares, an electrical and computer engineering postdoctoral researcher.
“Now, the device that we have made can measure very fast changes in the intensity of an optical signal,” Soares said in an e-mail interview.
The idea for the device originated with Nick Fontaine, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student. Yoo’s team then worked with the idea to create a practical application for it, said Ryan Scott, an electrical and computer engineering postdoctoral researcher.
Scott believes that future innovations with this technology are inevitable, given enough time.
“Although it is not possible to know exactly what type of impact our work will have in the future, we have historically seen that breakthroughs in other areas of science and technology soon followed significant improvements in optical measurement technology,” Scott said in an e-mail interview.
In addition to ultra high-speed communications, this technology can be used in light detection and ranging systems that are used to scan the Earth’s landscape and create three-dimensional images of the planet.
The project’s next step is to downsize the device into a smaller, silicon chip, Yoo said.
NICK MARKWITH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.