Researchers have developed a process to create wires only 50 nanometers (billionths of a meter) thick. Made from silica, the same mineral found in quartz, the wires carry light in an unusual way. Because the wires are thinner than the wavelengths of light they transport, the material serves as a guide around which light waves flow. In addition, because the researchers can fabricate the wires with a uniform diameter and smooth surfaces down to the atomic level, the light waves remain coherent as they travel.
The smaller fibers will allow devices to transmit more information while using less space. The new material may have applications in ever-shrinking medical products and tiny photonics equipment such as nanoscale laser systems, tools for communications and sensors. Size is of critical importance to sensing--with more, smaller-diameter fibers packed into the same area, sensors could detect many toxins, for example, at once and with greater precision and accuracy.
Researchers at Harvard University led by Eric Mazur and Limin Tong (also of Zhejiang University in China), along with colleagues from Tohoku University in Japan, report their findings in the Dec. 18, 2003, issue of the journal Nature.
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