Universe's secrets closer thanks to ultrafast lasers

Jul 09, 2013
An ultrafast laser fabricated structures being tested as a diffraction grating at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh.

Research from the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPaQS) at Heriot-Watt, has the potential to revolutionise how we observe the universe using telescopes, with a new approach that exploits ultrashort pulses of laser light to manufacture optical circuits called 'photonic lanterns'.

Looking at the universe by 'lantern light'

Dr Robert Thomson, an expert in ultrafast laser inscription from the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPaQS) at Heriot-Watt University, has developed a new device technology for future telescopes, such as the proposed €1 billion European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), which may facilitate more efficient analysis of the celestial light captured, enabling them to produce more .

Thomson's devices are fabricated using ultrashort , each only about 0.0000000000001 (or a ten trillionth) of a second long. He uses these pulses to inscribe laser modified 'tracks' into a substrate material which then act as called 'photonic lanterns', and guide photons (particles of light) in much the same way as guide electrons.

Dr Thomson said "Since its invention some 400 years ago, the telescope has become larger and more precise, but its basic design principles have essentially remained the same. Developing new instrument concepts for large-scale telescopes and space-based instruments can be achieved using photonic technologies which, put simply, are the optical equivalent of electronics and enable the flow of light to be precisely controlled and shaped.

"Compared to the traditional optics used in telescopes, such as mirrors and lenses, photonic technologies have the potential to be more efficient and reduce costs. With just one night on a world-leading telescope costing tens of thousands of pounds, it is essential that the instruments on the telescope deliver the maximum scientific output. This is where 'astrophotonics' may have the edge over conventional optical technologies.

"By reducing the amount of light that is 'lost', and by more efficiently controlling the that is collected, photonic devices may help increase what can be observed on a telescope, meaning we should be able to learn more about the nature of the universe around us."

The devices also have more earthly applications, and the technology is already been commercialised for next-generation data communications by Optoscribe Ltd, a spin-out from Heriot-Watt, co-founded by Thomson and his colleagues.

Explore further: Optics: Statistics light the way

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Laser-sculpted optical devices for future giant telescopes

Feb 05, 2009

Future telescopes, with mirrors half the size of a football field, will need special components to deal with the light they collect. Astronomers are turning to photonic devices that guide and manipulate light inside specially-designed ...

Optics: Statistics light the way

May 22, 2013

Millions of years of evolution have molded our eyes into highly sensitive optical detectors, surpassing even many man-made devices. Now, Leonid Krivitsky and his co-workers at the A*STAR Data Storage Institute ...

Recommended for you

Robotics goes micro-scale

Apr 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —The development of light-driven 'micro-robots' that can autonomously investigate and manipulate the nano-scale environment in a microscope comes a step closer, thanks to new research from the ...

High power laser sources at exotic wavelengths

Apr 14, 2014

High power laser sources at exotic wavelengths may be a step closer as researchers in China report a fibre optic parametric oscillator with record breaking efficiency. The research team believe this could ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...