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S1 E15

Why Twisted Light Holds the Key to Radically Faster Internet

With this new nanophotonic device we just might have unlocked how to harness the data transfer potential of “twisted light”.

 

Fiber optic cables. They funnel the data, the information being transferred to you as you request it from your web browser on your desktop, or the banking app on your phone, physically travels through the wires in the form of light. Pulses of light are sent from the data’s point of origin, through the cable, photons bouncing around inside that cable travel to the other end where there’s some kind of receiver, like a photodiode or photoelectric cell. This device is what translates those packets of light, in a given pattern, back into electrical information that your computer can then ‘understand’ and present to you as the information you asked for, like a web page. That’s crazy, right?


It’s about to get even crazier. New research has just demonstrated the feasibility of the world’s first nano-photonic device. See, in most standard systems, we currently only use a fraction of light’s capacity to transmit data. This is because we haven’t previously had the technology to decode anything else.  But new efforts are making use of light beyond the visible spectrum, like ultraviolet waves.In this version of data transmission, the light is not just photons pinging around, reflecting their way down the inside of the cable. The light waves, both visible and not, oscillate in a particular way to form a twisted pattern--also known as orbital angular momentum (OAM), or: twisted light.
Because twisted light is made up of more modes of light, that light is able to carry more information. In fact, because the light traveling through the fiber is made up of different kinds of twists, they can even overlap with one another, each carrying a different data stream, all at the same time--without interfering with each other. But we have to have something at the other end that can decode all of that packed-in information, right?

 

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