A team of scientists from Shanghai’s Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics has developed a novel method to generate a ‘laser-like light’ with the potential to boost the communication speeds of everyday electronics.
This includes smartphones and barcode scanners, as well as high-precision tools, like laser scalpels.
Lasers form when energy, like electricity or light, is passed through mediums like glass, crystal or gas. For example, we see a rainbow when light passes through water in a process called refraction.
The team’s device is what optics experts call a ‘free electron laser’ (FEL) and was first described in academia by Stanford professor, John Madey, in the early 1970s.
FELs are unique in that they can be tuned to explore a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum, from shorter micro, infrared and visible light waves, to the longer X and gamma-ray waves.
However, previous FEL systems were often massive, some taking up entire rooms, limiting their functionality significantly as a result.
The specialists at Shanghai’s Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics claim they can recreate spectrum-spanning FELs with a simple, eight-centimetre piece of wire.
Co-author of the paper dedicated to the study, Ye Tian, told the local news outlet, the Shanghai Observer, that the key to success was syncing the electrons travelling through the wire.
He asked readers to picture the electrons as a team of rowers. The most efficient teams row in unison and in the same direction, generating the largest waves through coordination.
While the team’s results are still relatively new, the scientific community has sat up and noticed the potential of Tian’s achievement.
David Gozzard, who works with the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research in Australia, shared his optimism for Tian’s findings.
He said that with some refinement, silicon-based lasers created off the back of the team’s research could find their way into the next generation of smartphones, high-precision sensors and other commercial and industrial communications devices.
Nicholas Rivera, a Harvard-based physicist, shared similar optimism to Gozzard, saying he was curious to see the team’s work replicated with visible spectrum radiation.
Silicon, while present in almost every electronic device is a challenging medium for lasers as it does not allow for the free movement of photons within the structure. Tian’s work could facilitate the emergence of high-amplitude light from compact sources.