Jul 192014
 

This image depicts David Powell twisting light. Credit: ANU

Scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) have uncovered the secret to twisting light at will. It is the latest step in the development of photonics, the faster, more compact and less carbon-hungry successor to electronics.

A random find in the washing basket led the team to create the latest in a new breed of materials known as metamaterials. These artificial materials show extraordinary properties quite unlike natural materials.

“Our material can put a twist into light – that is, rotate its polarisation – orders of magnitude more strongly than natural materials,” said lead author Mingkai Liu, a PhD student at the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering (RSPE).

“And we can switch the effect on and off directly with light,” said Mr Liu .

Electronics is estimated to account for two per cent of the global carbon footprint, a figure which photonics has the potential to reduce significantly. Already light carried by fibre optics, has replaced electricity for carrying signals over long distances. The next step is to develop photonic analogues of electronic computer chips, by actively controlling the properties of light, such as its polarisation.

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