I see far more research articles than I could possibly write. This column contains the most interesting of these articles and advances, as well as pointers as to why they can prove important in the world of technology and startups.
In this issue: a new type of laser beam that uses metamaterials, dogs trained by robots, a breakthrough in neurological research that can advance prosthetic vision and other cutting edge technologies.
Twisted laser starters
We think lasers are "straight" because this is easier than understanding their nature as groups of like-minded photons. However, there are more exotic properties for lasers beyond wavelength and intensity that scientists have been trying to use for years. Such a characteristic is … well, there are a few names for it: chirality, vorticality, spiralism and so on – the quality of a bar with a corkscrew movement. Effective application of this quality could improve the throughput speed of optical data by an order of magnitude.
The problem with such a "twisted light" is that it is very difficult to control and recognize. Researchers have made progress in this regard for several years, but the recent weeks have brought some new progress.
First, it is a laser emitter from the University of Witwatersrand that can produce twisted light with record purity and angular momentum – a measure of how twisted it is. It's also compact and uses metamaterials – always a plus.
The second is a pair of coordinated (and very multi-institutional) experiments that resulted in both a transmitter that can transmit vortex lasers and a receiver that can recognize and classify them. It is remarkably difficult to determine the angular momentum of an incident photon, and the hardware for it is cumbersome. The new detector is on a chip scale and can use five preset swirl modes, possibly increasing the width of a laser-based data channel by a corresponding factor. Vorticality is definitely on the roadmap for next-generation network infrastructure, so you can expect startups in this area once the universities outsource these projects.