In association with a research team, Curtis Menyuk, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) has performed a new study to gain an understanding of naturally occurring molecular systems through optical solitons in lasers.
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The research team was headed by Philip Russell at the Max-Planck Institute for the Science of Light (MPI) based in Erlangen, Germany.
Optical solitons can be described as packets of light joined together and moving at a steady speed without altering the shape. The study has been published in the Nature Communications journal and was started when Menyuk was working as a Humboldt Senior Research Fellow at MPI’s Russell Division.
Solitons are omnipresent in nature, and one example of a naturally occurring soliton is tsunami waves. Optical solitons incorporated in lasers have several applications and are used to quantify frequencies with unparalleled precision. Specifically, optical solitons have been used to detect distant planets, measure time, and improve GPS technology.
Moreover, optical solitons can be firmly bound to one another in lasers to produce soliton molecules similar to natural molecules containing covalently bound atoms. At an experimental level, Menyuk and his collaborators at MPI have shown that this idea can also be expanded to produce optical supramolecules.
Optical supramolecules are huge and complex arrays of weakly bound optical molecules that are analogous to supramolecules occurring in nature and are not strongly bound by non-covalent bonds. Using naturally occurring supramolecules, information is chemically stored and managed. Such information is required by biological systems to function.
Such supramolecules are known to have an integral role to play in biochemistry, specifically in “host-guest” chemistry. This kind of chemistry elucidates two or more molecules that are structurally held together by forces different from covalent bonds.
Menyuk and his collaborators’ work brought together supramolecules and optical solitons—that is, the two strands of apparently irrelevant thought.
The research team demonstrated that it is feasible to store and manage data that is encoded in the configuration of solitons that constitute an optical supramolecule.
Bringing together ideas from two apparently unrelated areas of science is one of the most powerful tools that engineers have for making progress.
Curtis Menyuk, Professor, Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, University of Maryland
Optical analogs to other naturally occurring and physical systems have substantially contributed to improving the interpretation of these systems, and this interpretation can result in novel applications.
By imitating the processes used by biological systems in a large-scale laser system that can be easily exploited and interpreted, Menyuk and his collaborators are hoping to get better insights into those systems and pave the way to novel biomimetic applications.