Optics breakthrough could speed internet, researchers say
A new technique for fashioning optical material could turbocharge the internet and communication networks to even faster speeds, according to a team of scientists from three research facilities.
Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Science, Washington State University and the University of Leuven in Belgium discovered a new synthesized organic dye molecule that interacts more strongly with light than any molecules ever tested.
The discovery makes molecules created under the same principles prime candidates for use in internet connections, optical switches and other optical technologies, the researchers said.
"To our great excitement, the molecules performed better than any other molecules ever measured," said Washington State University physicist Mark Kuzyk in a release of the findings Wednesday.
Light interacts with matter in ways visible to the human eye,such aswhen it is refracted through glass to produce a broader spectrum.
It also interacts on a molecular level. Molecules that absorb or interact with light efficiently can gain enough energy from photons to cause their electrons to behave in new ways, including jumping to a new molecular orbit or transferring between atoms.
Some of these molecular interactions are even visible. When the electrons of a molecule called achromophore absorb photons, it emits electrons with enough energy to fall within the range of the visible spectrum of light, which can be seen to the human eye as colour. Typical chromophores include fabric dyes and food colouring.
The new molecule is a synthesized version of a chromophore developed by chemists in China, evaluated according to theoretical calculations by Kuzyk and tested for their actual optical properties by chemists in Belgium.
Pushing the limit
In 1999, Kuzyk discovered a fundamental limit to how strongly light can interact with matter. But he also found all molecules examined at the time fell far short of this limit, opening the door to the possibility new undiscovered molecules could transfer information carried by light at even faster rates.
According to calculations, the new molecules are 50 per cent better than any molecule previously tested.
The molecules perform better because of a unique structure that keeps electrons confined to a small range of movement, allowing for more efficient interaction with light.
If the molecules were embedded in a clear polymer or other structure, they could be used to coat circuits, computer chips or optic fibres to improve the speed of data transmitted through electric charge, Kuzyk said.
Dye-sensitized solar cells using chromophores were invented in 1991 as an alternative toinorganic silicon cells. Though they can be manufactured cheaply, their low efficiency has thus far curbed widespread use.