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 NASA CubeSat to test miniaturized weather satellite technology
10.11.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht New approach uses light instead of robots to assemble electronic components
08.11.2017 | The Optical Society

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>