New non-metallic metamaterial enables team to 'compress' and contain light

August 19, 2014
Left: Arbitrary shaped nanoscale glass core denoted in black. The optical fields are not confined to the core resulting in fundamental issues of cross-talk detrimental to photonic circuits. Right: Jahani and Jacob have invented a non-metallic metamaterial cladding which compresses the light and forces it inside the core. Credit: Saman Jahani and Zubin Jacob

The invention of fiber optics revolutionized the way we share information, allowing us to transmit data at volumes and speeds we'd only previously dreamed of.

Now, electrical engineering researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada are breaking another barrier, designing nano-optical cables small enough to replace the copper wiring on .

This could result in radical increases in computing speeds and reduced energy use by electronic devices.

"We're already transmitting data from continent to continent using , but the killer application is using this inside chips for interconnects—that is the Holy Grail," says Zubin Jacob, an professor leading the research. "What we've done is come up with a fundamentally new way of confining light to the nano scale."

At present, the diameter of fiber optic cables is limited to about 1/1000th of a millimeter. Cables designed by graduate student Saman Jahani and Jacob are 10 times smaller—small enough to replace copper wiring still used on computer chips. (Put into perspective, a dime is about 1 mm thick.)

Jahani and Jacob have invented a new, non-metallic metamaterial that enables them to "compress" and contain light waves in smaller cables without creating heat, slowing the signal or losing data. Their findings will be published in Optica (Aug. 20), The Optical Society's (OSA) new high-impact photonics journal.

Explore further: Intel's Light Peak Will Replace Copper Wires

More information: The article is available online.

Group's website:

Related Stories

Intel's Light Peak Will Replace Copper Wires

September 24, 2009

( -- At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco Wednesday, the company announced a new optical cable that will be able to transfer data, between electrical devices, starting at speeds of 10 gigabits per second.

Using photons to manage data

November 2, 2011

Managing light to carry computer data, such as text, audio and video, is possible today with laser light beams that are guided along a fibre-optic cable. These waves consist of countless billions of photons, which carry information ...

Topological transitions in metamaterials

April 14, 2012

The ability to control the flow of electrons using engineered materials is fundamental to the information technology revolution, yet many properties of matter are still unclear. Now a University of Alberta researcher is closer ...

A single-atom light switch

November 5, 2013

With just a single atom, light can be switched between two fibre optic cables at the Vienna University of Technology. Such a switch enables quantum phenomena to be used for information and communication technology.

Recommended for you

The topolariton, a new half-matter, half-light particle

October 7, 2015

A new type of "quasiparticle" theorized by Caltech's Gil Refael, a professor of theoretical physics and condensed matter theory, could help improve the efficiency of a wide range of photonic devices—technologies, such as ...

New surfaces delay ice formation

October 6, 2015

If you've ever waited on an airport runway for your plane to be de-iced, had to remove all your food so the freezer could defrost, or arrived late to work because you had to scrape the sheet of ice off your car windshield, ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (2) Aug 19, 2014
non-metallic metamaterial = mystery sauce = potentially awesome

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.