Researchers from Australian National University are using a magnetic field to stimulate liquid crystals and steer light beams carrying data. The breakthrough touch-free magneto-optical system could lead to smaller, cheaper, more agile communications technologies, compared with fiber optics.
“The light propagating in liquid crystals creates its own channels, similar to optical fibers that guide the beams themselves.” explained group leader Professor Wieslaw Krolikowski from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering (RSPE). The liquid crystals, he added, can also be used to guide other information-carrying light signals. “The external magnetic field forces the light channels to follow its direction and, hence, allows one to vary trajectories of beams inside the liquid crystals."
The professor expects this innovative approach to data processing and switching to also be applicable to sensors, data storage and liquid crystal displays.
“Previous approaches involved the use of an electric field via externally provided voltage, which significantly restricted the region over which beams’ trajectories could be steered,” said Krolikowski.
The expert adds about his team’s magneto-optical system: ”It allows to steer the light-induced channel at will in a very broad region and, hence, to achieve almost 3D routing — from any input point to a desired output point.”
Krolikowski agrees that the discovery could lead to the next generation of more advanced, faster communications technologies, as he believes this work will stimulate “further research in this direction.”
Asked what applications will be benefitting from this breakthrough technology, the professor responded: “Optical signal switching, something like an optical exchange, where input channels could be connected with output channels by varying the direction of the external magnetic field.”
However, Krolikowski notes that it is difficult to predict what will be the path and timeline to make this new technology available for real-world applications. “The soliton concept has been around for quite some time, but there are still only a handful of commercial applications,” he said. “One of the reasons is that there has been incredible progress in traditional electronic data processing.”
Krolikowski said that moving forward with this endeavor, he and his colleagues will “search for different types of liquid crystals with low scattering loss and fast switching time.”
The research is detailed in the article “Magnetic routing of light-induced waveguides,” published in Nature Communications.
Written by Sandra Henderson, Research Editor, Novus Light Technologies Today