A New Design of Optical Chips

An artist’s impression of light in higher-dimensional networks realised on a two-dimensional optical circuit. (Source: K. Wang, ANU / L. Maczewsky, U. Rostock)

A new design of optical chips enables light to experience multiple dimensions, which could underpin versa­tile platforms for advanced communications and ultra-fast artificial intel­ligence tech­nologies. This scientific success was led jointly by The Aus­tralian National University (ANU) and the University of Rostock in Germany, with other collaborators in Germany, the University of Central Florida in the US and UNSW Canberra.

“Light can evolve in up to seven dimen­sions on our specially designed circuits, which is mind boggling when you realise that the space around us is three-dimensional,” said Andrey Sukhorukov, who led the development of new theo­retical concepts with a team of scientists at the Nonlinear Physics Centre of the ANU Research School of Physics. Alexander Szameit from the University of Rostock led the experi­mental work, including the cutting-edge fabri­cation of optical circuits. “Making use of higher dimensions on optical chips could support a variety of future tech­nologies that involve machine learning and performing complex tasks auto­nomously,” Szameit said.

Kai Wang, who worked on the key aspects of the project at ANU, said enabling light to travel beyond our three-dimen­sional space is a major break­through, and would drastically enhance the capability of today’s optical chips. “High-dimen­sional network structures can be found in human brains – if optical circuits can emulate this, their computation capability will also be boosted drama­tically,” Wang said. “This takes us into the realm of science fiction, which I think is really exciting. The sky is the limit in terms of potential future applications that could build on our discovery.”

Lukas Maczewsky, a PhD scholar who performed the experi­ments at University of Rostock, said the team’s innovation can be used to develop optical switches and sensors that can respond very sharply to transmit or block light. “Our work is an important step towards creating an ultra-compact and energy-effi­cient platform for optical networks,” Maczewsky said. “Light can travel inside the circuits on an optical chip but, on a mass-scale, circuits are most efficiently made within one plane – just like roads without over­passes. Without the need to build overpasses on planar circuits, we make better use of the cross-talks of light between neigh­bouring pathways to engineer the behaviour of light.” (Source: ANU)

Reference: L. J. Maczewsky et al.: Synthesizing multi-dimensional excitation dynamics and localization transition in one-dimensional lattices, Nat. Phot., online 16 December 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41566-019-0562-8

Link: Experimental Solid-State Optics, Institute for Physics, University Rostock, Rostock, Germany • Nonlinear Physics Centre, Research School of Physics, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

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