Scientists develop ultra fast method of changing fundamental property of light

From Drug Discovery Today - September 28, 2017

Scientists at Kings College London have developed a new way to rapidly change the polarisation of light, one of its fundamental properties. The research, published in Nature Photonics on 29th September 2017, could lead to much faster data transfer and advance research into nano-materials.

A light wave undulates in different waysknown as its polarisation. The polarisation of light is changed by the material it passes through, so we can use it to learn about unseen nano-scale worlds such as drug chemistry and quantum electronics. Switching polarisation is also used to transfer digital information along fibre optic cables.

The electronic methods currently used to control the light polarisation in such applications is reaching its physical speed limit.

Researchers at Kings have overcome this problem, allowing polarisation to be switched at timescales of less than a millionth of a millionth of a second - hundreds of times faster than current electronic methods.

This will allow us to see very fast nano-scale processes such as chemical reactions for the first time, by illuminating them with rapidly changing light. This helps us to understand the difference in formation of nasty chemicals and life-saving drugs, and allows us to study new materials that will bring about the next technological revolutions.

This will also represent a major advance in data transfer speeds. By rapidly changing the polarisation of light - to represent a one or a zero - data can be passed along fibre optic cables and into your living room more rapidly. This will help meet growing data sharing demands driven by streaming and cloud services.

Creating the light-speed, polarisation-switching nano-material

The team designed nano-structured materials that can control light polarisation using light itselfa technique known as all-optical polarisation control.

These nano-structures are known as metamaterials: materials with optical properties not available in nature. These thin, lightweight materials are constructed from elements smaller than a thousandth of a millimetre in order to create exotic optical effects.

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