Controlling photons for a bright future

(Edmonton) To better understand his research into the future use of photons as a way of transferring information and storing data, a University of Alberta professor says a basic understanding of how electronic materials work can help. 

Zubin Jacob, an electrical and computer engineering researcher, says that just as an on/off switch controls electrons in the flow of electricity, his research team is looking for a switch to control photons: individual particles of light.

Electricity is transferred through conventional materials, but Jacob says photons will transfer through metamaterials—man-made media that are engineered on a nanoscopic scale.

“We’ve been trying to understand how new materials can control photons,” said Jacob. “Electronics has revolutionized our everyday lives but the need for faster computing and secure communications requires us to move to optical circuitry in the future.”

Jacob is the co-lead author of research that shows abrupt changes in the properties of metamaterials used to control photons.

Researchers say that metamaterials will one day be used in applications as varied as information networks, imaging and solar cells. Jacob says we are five to 10 years away from the commercial application of such metamaterials based on the control of light-matter interaction.

“One area of science that metamaterials can change on a shorter term is microscope technology,” said Jacob. “The ability of metamaterials to compress the size of light will enhance the power of microscopes to nanoscopes that are able to reveal nanofeatures to the human eye.”

The research team comprises members from the U of A, Purdue University, and the Queens and City colleges of the City University of New York.

The research was published April 13 in the journal Science.