New State of Light

Measurements of three-dimensional wave packets that are spatiotemporal (ST) optical vortices with a controllable purely transverse OAM. (Source: U. Dayton / NPG)

For 20 years, researchers have studied how light rotates around a longi­tudinal axis parallel to the direction light travels. But could it move in other ways? After two years of research, and thanks to a sabbatical, Univer­sity of Dayton researchers Andy Chong and Qiwen Zhan became the first to create a new „state of light – showing it also can rotate around a trans­verse axis perpendicular to the direction light travels, like a cyclone.

”The sabbatical allowed us the time to fully concen­trate on this research and was very instrumental in putting us in a position to make this discovery,” Chong said. Zhan and Chong didn’t go into their research with precon­ceived notions on what to look for or what they would find. “It was more of a curiosity. Can we do this or make light do that?,” said Zhan, a professor of electro-optics and photonics and managing director of the UD-Fraunhofer Joint Research Center. “Once we disco­vered we’re able to do this, we then asked: What’s next?”

“What’s next?” may be a while off for the researchers and others who will examine the pair’s basic research findings for appli­cations, but they surmise this new state of light could be used to improve the trans­mission of large amounts of data with greater security, among many other potential appli­cations. “We don’t know yet? But the sky’s the limit,” Zhan said.

The duo is most interested in how the light inter­acts with materials. “We want to better understand how this state of light inter­acts with materials in space and time,” said Chong, associate professor of physics and electro-optics and photonics. (Source: U. Dayton)

Reference: A. Chong et al.: Generation of spatiotemporal optical vortices with controllable transverse orbital angular momentum, Nat. Phot., online 14 February 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41566-020-0587-z

Link: Dept. of Electro-Optics and Photonics, University of Dayton, Dayton, USA

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