At a time when communication networks are scrambling for ways to transmit more data over limited bandwidth, a type of twisted light wave is gaining new attention. Called an optical vortex or vortex beam, this complex beam resembles a corkscrew, with waves that rotate as they travel.
Now, applied physicists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have created a new device that enables a conventional optical detector (which would normally only measure the light's intensity) to pick up on that rotation.
The device, described in the journal Nature Communications, has the potential to add capacity to future optical communication networks.
"Sophisticated optical detectors for vortex beams have been developed before, but they have always been complex, expensive, and bulky,” says principal investigator Federico Capasso, Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at SEAS.
In contrast, the new device simply adds a metallic pattern to the window of a commercially available, low-cost photodetector. Each pattern is designed to couple with a particular type of incoming vortex beam by matching its orbital angular momentum—the number of twists per wavelength in an optical vortex.
Sensitive to the beam’s “twistiness,” this new detector can effectively distinguish between different types of vortex beams. Existing communications systems maximize bandwidth by sending many messages simultaneously, each a fraction of a wavelength apart; this is known as wavelength division multiplexing. Vortex beams can add an additional level of multiplexing and therefore should expand the capacity of these systems.
"In recent years, researchers have come to realize that there is a limit to the information transfer rate of about 100 terabits per second per fiber for communication systems that use wavelength division multiplexing to increase the capacity of single-mode optical fibers," explains Capasso. "In the future, this capacity could be greatly increased by using vortex beams transmitted on special multicore or multimode fibers. For a transmission system based on this 'spatial division multiplexing' to provide the extra capacity, special detectors capable of sorting out the type of vortex transmitted will be essential."
The new detector is able to tell one type of vortex beam from another due to its precise nanoscale patterning. When a vortex beam with the correct number of coils per wavelength strikes the gold plating on the detector’s surface, it encounters a holographic interference pattern that has been etched into the gold. This nanoscale patterning allows the light to excite the metal's electrons in exactly the right way to produce a focused electromagnetic wave, known as a surface plasmon. The light component of this wave then shines through a series of perforations in the gold, and lands on the photodetector below.
If the incoming light doesn't match the interference pattern, the plasmon beam fails to focus or converge and is blocked from reaching the detector.
Capasso's research team has demonstrated this process using vortex beams with orbital angular momentum of −1, 0, and 1.
"In principle, an array of many different couplers and detectors could be set up to read data transmitted on a very large number of channels," says lead author Patrice Genevet, a research associate in applied physics at SEAS. “With this approach, we transform detectors that were originally only sensitive to the intensity of light, so that they monitor the twist of the wavefronts. More than just detecting a specific twisted beam, our detectors gather additional information on the phase of the light beam.”
The device's ability to detect and distinguish vortex beams is important for optical communications, but its capabilities may extend beyond what has been demonstrated.
"Using the same holographic approach, the same device patterned in different ways should be able to couple any type of free-space light beam into any type of surface wave," says Genevet.
Coauthors on this work included Jiao Lin, a former postdoctoral fellow in Capasso’s lab (now at the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology), and Harvard graduate student Mikhail A. Kats.
The research was supported by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, and through research fellowships from the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research in Singapore and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). The researchers also benefited from facilities at Harvard's Center for Nanoscale Systems, a member of the NSF-supported National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network.
Caroline Perry | Source: EurekAlert!
Further information: www.seas.harvard.edu
Further Reports about: angular momentum > Applied and Environmental Microbiology > Applied Science > communication networks > communication system > Counting > Ferchau Engineering > Genevet > information technology > optical communication > optical fiber > SEAS
More articles from Physics and Astronomy:
CU-Boulder scientist: 2012 solar storm points up need for society to prepare
10.12.2013 | University of Colorado at Boulder
3D printing used as a tool to explain theoretical physics
09.12.2013 | Institute of Physics
A unique solar panel design made with a new ceramic material points the way to potentially providing sustainable power cheaper, more efficiently, and requiring less manufacturing time.
It also reaches a four-decade-old goal of discovering a bulk photovoltaic material that can harness energy from visible and infrared light, not just ultraviolet light.
Scaling up this new design from its tablet-size prototype to a full-size solar panel would be a large step toward making solar power affordable compared with ...
Atlantische Flohkrebse pflanzen sich jetzt auch in arktischen Gewässern fort
Biologen des Alfred-Wegener-Institutes, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung (AWI), haben zum ersten Mal nachgewiesen, dass sich in den arktischen Gewässern westlich Spitzbergens auch Flohkrebse aus dem wärmeren Atlantik fortpflanzen.
Diese überraschende Entdeckung deute auf einen möglichen Wandel der arktischen Zooplankton-Gemeinschaft hin, berichten die Wissenschaftler und Wissenschaftlerinnen in der Fachzeitschrift Marine Ecology ...
The molecular architecture of three key proteins and their complexes reveals how plants fine-tune their immune response to pathogens
Plants rarely get sick in their natural environment. When the threat of infection arises, a quick decision is made about the necessary countermeasures. The course is set by a protein which forms complexes with its partner proteins for this purpose.
Jane Parker from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding ...
Researchers studying speciation of butterfly orchids on the Azores have been startled to discover that the answer to a long-debated question "Do the islands support one species or two species?" is actually "three species".
Hochstetter's Butterfly-orchid, newly recognized following application of a battery of scientific techniques and reveling in a complex taxonomic history worthy of Sherlock Holmes, is arguably Europe's rarest orchid species. Under threat in its mountain-top retreat, the orchid urgently requires conservation recognition.
A lavishly illustrated publication, titled "Systematic revision of Platanthera in ...
Researchers from Brown University and the University of Hawaii have found some mineralogical surprises in the Moon's largest impact crater.
Data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper that flew aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter shows a diverse mineralogy in the subsurface of the giant South Pole Aitken basin.
The differing mineral signatures could be reflective of the minerals dredged up at the time of the giant impact 4 billion years ago, ...
12.12.2013 | Life Sciences
12.12.2013 | Earth Sciences
12.12.2013 | Studies and Analyses
11.12.2013 | Event News
10.12.2013 | Event News
05.12.2013 | Event News