Acousto-optics enables ultra-fast steering and shaping of light beams

New optical beam-forming device making'twisted light' universities of Bristol and Dundee

New optical beam-forming device making ‘twisted light’
Universities of Bristol and Dundee

“The number of applications of this new technology is vast.”

A team of engineers has developed a new acousto-optic device that can shape and steer beams of light at speeds never before achieved. The new technology will enable better optical devices to be made, such as holographs that can move rapidly in real time.

The research led by Bruce Drinkwater, Professor of Ultrasonics at the University of Bristol and Dr Mike MacDonald at the University of Dundee is published in the journal, Optics Express.

The array consists of 64 tiny piezo-electric elements which act as high frequency loudspeakers. The complex sound field generated deflects and sculpts any light passing through the new device. As the sound field changes, so does the shape of the light beam.

Professor Drinkwater from the Department of Mechanical Engineering said: “This reconfigurability can happen extremely fast, limited only by the speed of the sound waves.  The key advantage of this method is that it potentially offers very high refresh rates – millions of refreshes per second is now possible. This means that in the future laser beam-based devices will be able to be reconfigured much faster than is currently possible.  Previously, the fastest achieved is a few thousand refreshes per second.”

The advancement will enable reconfigurable lenses that can automatically compensate for aberrations allowing for improved microscopy and a new generation of optical tweezers that will make them more rapidly reconfigurable and so allow better shaped traps to be produced.

Dr Mike MacDonald, Head of the Biophotonics research group at the University of Dundee, explained: “What we have shown can be thought of as a form of optical holography where the hologram can be made in real time using sound.  Previous attempts to do this have not had the level of sophistication that we have achieved in the control of our acoustic fields, which has given us much greater flexibility in the control we have over light with these devices.

“The device can potentially be addressed much more quickly than existing holographic devices, such as spatial light modulators, and will also allow for much higher laser powers to be used.  This opens up applications such as beam shaping in laser processing of materials, or even fast and high power control of light beams for free space optical communications using orbital angular momentum to increase signal bandwidth, as shown recently by a demonstration in Vienna.”

Professor Drinkwater added: “The number of applications of this new technology is vast.  Optical devices are everywhere and are used for displays, communications as well as scientific instruments.”

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Scientific breakthrough will help design the antibiotics of the future

A carbapenem molecule, a last resort antibiotic, enters the carbapenemase enzyme (blue arrow), where the crucial beta-lactam structure gets broken down. The ineffective molecule then leaves (orange arrow)

A carbapenem molecule, a last resort antibiotic, enters the carbapenemase enzyme (blue arrow), where the crucial beta-lactam structure gets broken down. The ineffective molecule then leaves (orange arrow)

Scientists have used computer simulations to show how bacteria are able to destroy antibiotics – a breakthrough which will help develop drugs which can effectively tackle infections in the future.

Researchers at the University of Bristol focused on the role of enzymes in the bacteria, which split the structure of the antibiotic and stop it working, making the bacteria resistant.

The new findings, published in Chemical Communications, show that it’s possible to test how enzymes react to certain antibiotics.

It’s hoped this insight will help scientists to develop new antibiotics with a much lower risk of resistance, and to choose the best medicines for specific outbreaks.

Using a Nobel Prize-winning technique called QM/MM – quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics simulations – the Bristol research team were able to gain a molecular-level insight into how enzymes called ‘beta-lactamases’ react to antibiotics.

Researchers specifically want to understand the growing resistance to carbapenems, which are known as the ‘last resort’ antibiotics for many bacterial infections and super bugs such as E. coli.

Resistance to carbapenems makes some bacterial infections untreatable, resulting in minor infections becoming very dangerous and potentially deadly.

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Smart Notices could take us beyond copyright

English: Diagram showing three main types of cloud computing (public/external, hybrid, private/internal) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dynamic Smart Notices could replace standard licencing agreements for software, online services and digital goods, according to a team at HP Labs and the National Hellenic Research Foundation.

There is a high privacy threat to users of the myriad cloud services on the internet especially those that operate dynamically based on personal information such as a person’s location, their user preferences, linked calendars and social networks. As such, the cloud represents a legal quagmire especially given that a specific application that appears to be one entity to the user may utilize numerous different resources provided by several different service providers in different locations around the globe. The handling of one’s personal and commercially sensitive data in the cloud has thus been sensitized in the wake of copyright law, creative commons efforts and data protection legislation, which is handled very differently from nation to nation and under different jurisdictions.

Siani Pearson of the Security and Cloud Lab at HP Labs in Bristol, UK and Prodromos Tsiavos of the National Documentation Centre at the National Hellenic Research Foundation, in Athens, Greece, suggest that the disparities and opacity regarding rights, intellectual property and data protection are to some degree hindering more widespread adopt of cloud services by companies and individuals wary of putting their data on to remote servers over which they lack ultimate control.

However, the pair suggest that, “As cloud computing evolves towards an ecosystem of service provision, there is an increasing need for users to be more in control of the services they receive and regulatory instruments are changing from purely legal to hybrid techno-legal systems.” As such, they hope to address certain aspects of the issues surrounding data and privacy and hasten this evolution to a more stable set of regulations and codes of conduct. The aim would be to ensure that cloud service providers can continue to profit from the systems they provide while users can rest assured that they are protected and not susceptible to espionage or worse theft of their intellectual property and data based on inappropriate law in certain regions of the globe.

Their “Smart Notices” approach builds on the well-known and increasingly widely adopted Creative Commons systems that seek to supersede apparently outmoded copyright laws, as such it has to meet minimum requirements with regards to legal, technical and social issues. In addition, the Smart Notices must be constructed so that they are easy to read and understand by users as well as being machine readable. Fundamentally, Smart Notices will be customisable and searchable, provide a set of related policies that would be shown to end users by service providers, based on the choices they make when signing up for services or implementing specific modules within an overarching service and so replace the current standard fixed notice approach, including the outdated, one-size-fits-all End User License Agreement (EULA).

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Tidal power: Small is beautiful

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ONE problem with renewable energy is that neither the wind nor the sun is reliable. That cannot, however, be said of the tides.

The Newtonian clockwork of sun and Moon can always be relied on. The problem with exploiting tidal power has, rather, been finding places to do it efficiently: bays or estuaries with a suitable tidal reach and a topography that permits a barrage to be constructed. Only then, with established designs, can turbines be installed through which the tide can ebb and flow.

That would change, though, if turbines could simply be attached to the sea floor. And several firms are trying to make it so. Some, such as Andritz Hydro Hammerfest, in Norway, and Marine Current Turbines from Bristol, in Britain, take the relatively simple approach of sticking what are little more than strengthened wind turbines onto the seabed.

In the case of such turbines, though, bigger is better. And, since a turbine is not much use if its blades stick above the surface, that means they need to be located in reasonably deep water. Which is a shame, because a lot of otherwise-suitable sites are too shallow.

Not all wind turbines work this way, though. Some smaller ones are skeletal cylindrical structures whose axes of rotation are at right-angles to the direction of the wind, rather than aligned with it. And that, with the important modification that this axis is horizontal rather than vertical, is the basis for several novel designs for tidal-power generators which can operate in shallow water too.

Engineers at Ocean Renewable Power Company, in Portland, Maine, and Kepler Energy, in London, both use this approach. And Ocean Renewable is starting to commercialise it. In September 2012 its TidGen generator was deployed in the Gulf of Maine. It thus became the first plant to deliver offshore-generated power of any kind (wind, wave or tidal) to an American electricity grid.

Kepler is a little behind, but is hoping to try out a full-scale version of its Transverse Horizontal Axis Water Turbine in the Bristol Channel soon. Its engineers’ calculations suggest this device will generate 50% more power from a given tidal stream that a conventional turbine can manage.

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Scientists to announce quantum chip technology breakthrough

“Our devices are directly compatible…they talk the same language.”

Bristol University scientists look set to debut a new type of quantum chip, which could offer mobile devices greater protection from hackers.

The silicon-based chip will be unveiled at the British Science Festival in Aberdeen this week and has been developed by an international team of scientists working at the University of Bristol.

The technology works by manipulating light particles to perform calculations, whereas traditional silicon chips rely on electrical currents.

According to a report in the Financial Times, the quantum chip is thousands of times smaller than silicon chips and is manufactured using similar methods, which could pave the way for the technology’s mass production.

As a result, it is claimed quantum chip-based processors could be integrated with conventional microelectronic circuits within “three-to-five” years.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Antti Niskanen, research leader at Nokia Research Centre in Cambridge, hailed the security implications of the new technology.

“Understanding quantum photonics opens exciting prospects for further research into security, sensors and information processing,” he said.

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