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Friday, May 6, 2011

Fully Charged, will be back for more next year!

Just want to touch a few more fields before we wrap up this amazing CLEO 2011. The truth is, we all learn a lot and we will crave for more soon.

I guess we are by now all familiar with the metamaterials thanks to the powerful broadcasting media and online news. Metamaterials have some complex indices of refractions, which bend the light in a whole new way. Even nature utilizes it. The amazing colors on the butterflies, insects, are all originated from the nanostructures – some variations of metamaterials. However, I realized yesterday, this is OLD news.

Researchers now have something new called (well, new to me) “configurable metamaterials”. Unlike before, a specific metameterial is only suitable for one frequency; nowadays we can tune the properties of them by varying the temperature, through optical pumping, and more. If we use some materials that have strong thermal or optical responses to construct the metamaterials, these phoeneoma can be achieved. The concept seems to be there for quite a while, but it is just thrilling to see the real works have been done.

This morning, Dr. John E. Bowers gave an amazing talk on silicon photonics. I feel like soon in the future, silicon will replace the metallic wires in the computer, become the light source of miniature sizes penetrating to our daily lives, and constitute the cores of our gadgets. Furthermore, the data transmission rate is much higher (with tens of GBs per second, more than enough to watch all channels of HDTV at once), and the heat generation is negligible compared with the computers of modern days.

Make sure you check the article in photonics spectra and this one in from Intel to peek the future. Think about it, if we have the silicon-based waveguide/lasers of tiny dimensions, combined with flexible LED panels, we can make the electronics so small and life will totally be awesome.

In addition to using silicon as data transmission media, a hybrid silicon ring laser, like the three shown here, could be used as an on-chip light source in future photonic circuits. The rings are just 12.5 ┬Ám in radius and consist of III-V compound semiconductors. Waveguides – the black lines running below the rings – traffic the light back and forth. (Courtesy of Di Liang, University of California, Santa Barbara).
Fiber lasers/amplifiers have drawn huge amount of attention in the past decade. The Holy Grail is to replace the free space lasers in many applications. If they succeed in doing so, I would imagine all the laser-based medical devices would use fiber lasers since they can be made compact, robust, and essentially free of aligning. They can even revolutionize the optomechanics’ market (apparently, a lot of free space optomechanics will be forced to retire). Like past few years, great advancement/or continuous improvement are seen in this conference, such as mode-locked fiber lasers, fiber amplifiers, fiber parametric devices, new wavelength fiber lasers, beam combining and stabilization of fiber amplifiers, and even fiber based sensors (browse your brochure one more time if you are too busy to notice these).

Advances in biological microscopy and nanophotonic sensors once again carry the light applications into another degrees of freedoms. There are numerous ways of doing microscopy, old and new, classical and bizarre. Some promise more while the other create intellectual and instrumental challenges. Each category of them suggests a new direction for laser manufacturing. I guess this is part of the fun in research pioneering! On the other hand, advances in nonophotonic sensors do make me realize we have to re-think the limitation of “instrumental sizes” almost every time you think about it. Indeed, researchers give you a new definition of instrumental size almost every year!

See you all in next CLEO or actually next conference!

The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not represent the Optical Society of America (OSA) or any OSA affiliate.

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