UTEP, UCF Engineers Invent New Way to Control Light
March 11, 2015 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
Future computers will send information on light, not electricity. The energy swap will lead to exponentially faster data transmission and a more efficient overall system.
But transitioning to light, or optical power, has been challenging. Now, an innovation at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and the University of Central Florida (UCF) brings that high-tech world one step closer.
Researchers have devised and demonstrated a low-cost way to bend and control light at whatever degree they choose. The find is described in the journal Optics Express.
"Computer chips and circuit boards have metal wire connections within them that transport data signals," said Raymond Rumpf, Ph.D., professor of electrical and computer engineering at UTEP. "One of the challenges when using light is figuring out a way to make tight bends so we can replace the metal wiring more effectively."
Guiding light beams to make sharp turns has been notoriously difficult.
Conventional light beam waveguides, structures that light can travel through for direction — like optical fibers or hollow metal pipes — must curve gradually to make light beams turn. If the turn is too quick, the light beam will lose its energy.
To combat this, the team designed a complex geometrical plastic lattice that a light beam can travel through instead of conventional waveguides. The material — a simple epoxy — is able to retain the light's energy even through quick, sharp turns.
The UTEP-UCF team's technology creates a new record in the field of optics for its ability to bend light beams.
Rumpf, who runs UTEP's EM Lab, envisions that this groundbreaking technology will first appear in high-performance super computers before it can be found in people's everyday laptops.
"Right now computer chips are connected through metal wires and they are limited in how fast they can transmit data from chip to chip because those paths are made of metal," he said. "So certainly, if we move to optical energy next, the speed of current data and internet transmissions will increase by orders of magnitude."