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Counting the twists in a helical light beam
Date:1/8/2013

Cambridge, Mass. - January 8, 2013 - At a time when communication networks are scrambling for ways to transmit more data over limited bandwidth, a type of twisted light wave is gaining new attention. Called an optical vortex or vortex beam, this complex beam resembles a corkscrew, with waves that rotate as they travel.

Now, applied physicists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have created a new device that enables a conventional optical detector (which would normally only measure the light's intensity) to pick up on that rotation.

The device, described in the journal Nature Communications, has the potential to add capacity to future optical communications networks.

"Sophisticated optical detectors for vortex beams have been developed before, but they have always been complex, expensive, and bulky," says principal investigator Federico Capasso, Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering.

In contrast, the new device simply adds a metallic pattern to the window of a commercially available, low-cost photodetector. Each pattern is designed to couple with a particular type of incoming vortex beam by matching its orbital angular momentumthe number of twists per wavelength in an optical vortex.

Sensitive to the beam's "twistiness," this new detector can effectively distinguish between different types of vortex beams. Existing communications systems maximize bandwidth by sending many messages simultaneously, each a fraction of a wavelength apart; this is known as wavelength division multiplexing. Vortex beams can add an additional level of multiplexing and therefore should expand the capacity of these systems.

"In recent years, researchers have come to realize that there is a limit to the information transfer rate of about 100 terabits per second per fiber for communication systems that use wavelength divisio
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Contact: Caroline Perry
cperry@seas.harvard.edu
617-496-1351
Harvard University
Source:Eurekalert  

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