Fiber at the Cutting Edge

Carl Weinschenk
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Five Innovations that Could Change the Way We Live, Work and Play

It's quite understandable that the vast majority of coverage of IT and telecommunications deals with the here and now - what is happening in technology, business and the meeting of the two today and tomorrow.

Once in a while, however, it is valuable and interesting to take a look ahead at the technology. For instance, researchers at Pennsylvania State University are working on a technique that may lead to great changes in the future.

Today, of course, fiber cables and the lasers and other electronic elements that send and receive data are separate. The data starts out as electrical impulses. It then is converted to light, sent via laser impulses through the fiber and reconverted at an external device at the receiving end. The research, which soon will be published in The Nature Photonics Journal, focuses on transitioning the light into electrical signals within the fiber, according to the report on the research at Computerworld.

This material, when presented in an understandable way, is cool:

The heart of Penn State's innovation is a new chemical procedure that involves depositing semiconducting materials layer by layer into tiny pores alongside a portion of the optical fibers, using a process called high-pressure chemical vapor deposition.

So far, the story says, the research only aims to convert light into electrical signals; the transition back has not yet been tackled, nor has the process been performed on the multimode fiber used today. At the end of the day, though, the article says the process could lead to "radical redesigns of current products" and new products altogether.

Even more arcane research is being performed at Japan's Photonic Network Research Institute, which is part of the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Essentially, it seems that the idea is to create super light sources with "quantum dots." This, researchers say, will vastly increase the wavelengths that can be used. Here is how Engineering on the Edge's John Newman explains it:

A quantum dot is a tiny particle of nanometer scale made of semiconductor crystals. Use of this minute structure as a luminescent material or light-amplifying material in optical devices enables broadband operation at longer wavelengths, which is difficult to achieve by conventional means.
Beyond the cool factor, the breakthrough makes possible the idea of increasing bandwidth up to 70THz, which is a huge improvement over the current 10THz frequencies commonly used. The experiment also used photonic crystal fiber, showing the possibility of using a new wavelength band for optical communications. As well as making sure I don't miss my shows, the breakthrough has other potential applications. With a wavelength band between 1.0-1.3 microns, the new discovery can permeate human skin and blood. This could lead to breakthroughs in medical scanning and high resolution cell imaging.

Here is a take from Popular Science and the NICT press release. The same explanatory video from Digitized Information Inc. is included in the Popular Science and Engineering on the Edge posts.


Finally, in an advance that actually is far closer to commercial use, Sandia National Laboratories, according to gizmag, is working on sending power as well as data through fiber. The initial uses of Power over Fiber (PoF) aren't for business-level telecommunications. If the technology thrives, however, these uses will follow on quickly.

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