Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

From Darwin to Internet at the speed of light

26.11.2002


Internet traffic jams may become history if ESA succeeds in developing new technology to see nearby Earth-sized planets. Why? In looking for new ways to detect planets ESA is thinking that, instead of bulky mirrors and lenses in space, one can build miniaturised optical systems that fit onto a microchip. Such ‘integrated optics’ would also allow earthly computer networks to use high-speed routing of data streams as a natural spin-off.



Data moving around the Internet are like road traffic in that a car can be driven fast down a straight road but has to slow down a great deal when changing direction at a junction. The same thing happens on information highways. Beams of light carry data along fibre-optic cables at very high speeds. When the data arrive at computers, known as servers, the servers redirect them to their final destinations. Presently, you need to convert the light signals into electricity, and that slows everything down.

Electrons move at a speed of a few kilometres per second through a circuit, whereas light travels at nearly 300 000 kilometres per second. Integrated optics would leave the data as light and simply channel it through the chip, in the right direction. Scientists call this area integrated optics, referring to the integrated circuit board on which chips are mounted. Instead of miniaturised electronics, however, miniaturised optics are placed on a microchip.


ESA has a strategy to enable more sophisticated searches for extra-solar planets in the future. Two planned developments rely on combining the light from such planets in a number of different telescopes. These are the Darwin mission and its precursor, the ESA/ESO Ground-based European Nulling Interferometer Experiment (GENIE).

When you combine light beams, you traditionally need moving mirrors and lenses to divert the light beams to where you want them. However, if the system moves, it can break. As Malcolm Fridlund, Project Scientist for Darwin and GENIE says, “To change to integrated optics, which is much smaller and has no moving parts, would be highly desirable.”

Desirable certainly, but also difficult. At present, integrated optics is a science that is far behind integrated circuit technology. For this reason, ESA is funding two studies. Astrium has been asked to study a traditional optics approach and Alcatel is investigating an integrated-optics solution. “We shall take the decision on whether GENIE will use integrated optics in just over one year,” says Fridlund.

In the future, Darwin, ESA’s ambitious mission to find Earth-like planets, may also use integrated optics but using longer wavelengths of light than GENIE. This is uncharted territory as far as integrated optics is concerned. However, Fridlund is currently reviewing proposals from industrial companies which would like to take up the challenge. “What I’’m reading in those proposals is making me highly optimistic,” says Fridlund, “I don’t yet know whether mid-infrared integrated optics will have any commercial application, but until we develop them, we’ll never know.”

Should the integrated-optics approach work, the rewards would extend far beyond a few improvements in searching for planets. Here on Earth, for all home-computer users, for example, it could speed up the Internet by 100–1000 times. The consequences of surfing the Web at such speeds would be amazing.

Franco Bonacina | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Cutting edge research for the industries of tomorrow – DFKI and NICT expand cooperation
21.03.2017 | Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz GmbH, DFKI

nachricht Molecular motor-powered biocomputers
20.03.2017 | Technische Universität Dresden

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

When Air is in Short Supply - Shedding light on plant stress reactions when oxygen runs short

23.03.2017 | Life Sciences

Researchers use light to remotely control curvature of plastics

23.03.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Sea ice extent sinks to record lows at both poles

23.03.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>