Posted in | News | Optics and Photonics

3D Photonic Crystals to Revolutionise Telecommunications

A team of European scientists has published the details of its research into three-dimensional photonic crystals which they believe could revolutionise the world of telecommunications.

As part of the EU-funded NewTon project, the researchers expect to have developed the first functional components of this new technology by the end of 2008. The long-term goal is to use these three-dimensional photonic crystals as construction elements in telecommunications.

According to the researchers, many times more information can be transmitted by light in the same time as has so far been possible with electricity. This explains why telephone conversations, websites, photographs or music, for example, are now increasingly being transmitted by optical fibres.

At present, however, this technology still has one drawback at the 'network nodes' level. At these nodes, the routing of the information to the end user is still done electrically, because no competitive, compact all-optical routing processor is available yet.

To solve this problem, the NewTon researchers are developing a photonic crystal capable of reflecting only single colours of white light depending on the observation angle.

This phenomenon is known from nature: the shimmering colours on butterfly wings derive from the properties of photonic crystals.

'A structured three-dimensional photonic crystal could be the key component for a compact optical semiconductor or even for an all-optical routing processor,' says Dr Reinhold Leyrer, one of the partners in the project. 'Converting optical signals into electrical signals would then be superfluous.'

But the scientists first have to develop a stable, structured three-dimensional photonic crystal; this is exactly the goal of the 'NewTon' project.

The manufacturers of components for telecom systems would benefit most from the use of photonic crystals. Since the crystals are smaller than electronic components, equipment would also become increasingly smaller and cheaper while simultaneously offering improved performance.

Components and equipment based on photonic crystals would also be more resistant and less vulnerable to electromagnetic radiation.

Ultimately, the research activities of the NewTon project will lay the foundations for a next generation of communication technologies based entirely on transmitting information by light waves.

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