A new class of fascinating technologies—including optics in computing, telecommunications links and switches, and virtually any other optical component—could be created simply by configuring a mesh of light-controlling devices known as interferometers. This is similar to the way electronic semiconductors can fashion the wide array of digital technologies we have at our disposal today.
Optical technologies have the potential to greatly reduce the power consumption of computers, speed telecommunications, and enhance the sensitivity of chemical and biological sensors. The basic building blocks of traditional optics, however, mirrors and lenses, lack the versatility to readily perform these functions and are difficult to scale to the small sizes needed for many applications.
A fundamentally new approach to designing optical technologies—based on a single device known as a Mach-Zehnder interferometer—could overcome these limitations and lead to a variety of breakthrough applications, thus, paving the way for an entirely new class of technologies that could give optics the kind of versatility we see in electronics.
“Recently, optical researchers have begun to understand that these interferometers can be thought of as universal ‘building blocks’ that could enable us to construct essentially any optical device we could imagine,” said Dr. David A.B. Miller, Stanford University, California, USA and author of a letter describing the potential of interferometers published today in The Optical Society’s new high-impact journal Optica.
Previously, this approach would have only been feasible if the Mach-Zehnder interferometers were able to achieve perfect performance—a seemingly unattainable goal.
The new approached described in this paper, however, presents an alternate pathway. Rather than engineering a perfect, single component, researchers propose it’s possible to create a mesh, or array, of interferometers that, when properly programmed, could compensate for its less-than-perfect parts and deliver overall perfect performance.
“It’s this larger scheme that allows us to use reasonable but imperfect versions of these components,” explains Miller.
Interferometers Building the Foundation of Technology
Interferometers are basically any device that separate and re-combine light waves. Like sound waves, light waves can be combined so their signals add together. They also can “interfere” and cancel each other out. This basic “on/off” capability is what would allow interferometers to be harnessed and configured in a variety of ways.
Read more: Breakthrough optics pave way for new class of intriguing technologies
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