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NZ research boosts internet capability

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 24 April 2019, 4:41 pm

Data is often thought of as weightless but that doesn't mean it doesn't leave a carbon footprint. Scientists at the University of Otago/Dodd-Walls Centre point out that the internet is one of the single biggest consumers of power in the world. In fact, data capacity is expected to double every year while the physical infrastructure used to process data is reaching its limits.

Solutions to this issue are keenly sought, and the University is promoting a new approach by Principal Investigator Dr Harald Schwefel and Dr Madhuri Kumari's. They have just published research about a device that could enable the next generation of a faster, more energy efficient internet.

The device is called a 'microresonator optical frequency comb', and it is made out of a tiny disc of crystal. It transforms a single colour of laser light into a rainbow of 160 different frequencies - each beam totally in sync with each other and perfectly stable.

"The internet is powered by lasers. Every email, cell phone call and website visit is encoded into data and sent around the world by laser light. In order to cram more data down a single optical fibre the information is split into different frequencies of light that can be transmitted in parallel."

The microresonator device could potentially replace the hundreds of power-consuming lasers currently used to encode and send data around the world, as Dr Kumari explains: "Lasers only emit one colour at a time. What this means is that, if your application requires many different colours at once, you need many lasers. All of them cost money and consume energy. The idea of these new frequency combs is that you launch one colour into the microresonator and a whole range of new colours comes out," she says.

In other words, a whole rack of lasers can be replaced by this one small energy efficient device.

The research is the first milestone in a government funded collaboration between scientists at the Universities of Otago and Auckland who are part a virtual gathering of New Zealand researchers working in the fields of light and quantum science. The project has received almost $1 million through the Marsden Fund and the next step for the team is to work with major telecommunication companies.

Dr Kuamri says that the internet is just one of the possible applications for the new optical frequency combs. Another use is high-precision spectroscopy - using laser light to study and identify the chemical composition, properties and structure of materials including diseases, explosives and chemicals.

You can read the full research published in scientific publication Nature here.


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