News Feature | March 16, 2022

Bright Ideas — Researchers Try New Rare Earth Mineral For Quantum Communications, SPIE DCS Is Right Around The Corner

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By Abby Proch, former editor


In a little more than two weeks, the photonics and optics community will again convene at the SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing conference and exhibition in Orlando, Florida, April 3-7. The four-day event will feature more than 200 exhibitors and over 1,100 technical talks. For many who opted out of Photonics West in San Francisco in January, the SPIE event will serve as a return to the conference circuit. Highlights for the event include a Florida Photonics Cluster and plenary speakers Philip Perconti, director and CTO of Leonardo DRS; Edmund Zelnio of the Autonomy Technology Research Center at the US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL); Jill Crisman, principal director for artificial intelligence at the US Department of Defense; and Jacob Taylor of the University of Maryland.

A little less conventional for the photonics world, the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference and Festivals is recognizing Ambient Photonics as a finalist for its SXSW Innovation Awards in the category of “Smart Cities, Transportation & Delivery.” According to the announcement, Ambient is in the running because of its “revolutionary low-light energy harvesting solar technology, which harvests photons from indoor and outdoor ambient light to continually power IoT (internet of things) electronic devices without disposable batteries.” Finalists are evaluated on creativity, form, function, and overall experience.

Also in conference news, Effect Photonics took advantage of OFC 2022 to announce it has acquired optical signal processing business from Viasat. At last week’s Optical Fiber Conference in San Diego, Effect Photonics said it agreed to buy that portion of the business as well as the global communication firm’s forward error correction technology. It is not yet known what the deal is worth. Effect also recently secured $20 million in Series-C funding.

In a reported world first, Hamamatsu has debuted a new Quantum Cascade Laser (QCL) module tunable to a 0.42 to 2 THz frequency range. The research results were published recently in Photonics Research, detailing how the company’s laser module can generate “narrow-band terahertz waves all while switching the frequency of just one QCL module.” The solution can reportedly be used in the non-destructive inspection of food, drugs, and semiconductors with parts that absorb terahertz waves.  

In quantum computing, researchers may have found the ideal material for quantum system development, a rare earth mineral and molecular crystal that solves the issue of both spin and light propagation. Researchers from the French National Centre for Scientific Research and l'Université de Strasbourg, along with support teams at Chimie ParisTech-PSL and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, say that europium molecular crystals’ ultra-narrow linewidths equate to longer quantum states, which in their studies were used “to demonstrate the storage of a light pulse inside these molecular crystals.”

And finally, the nation’s oldest optics degree program is getting a nearly $2 million boost in grants and endowments to fund the educational futures of more than 6 PhD students. The Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester says that half of a $900,000 GAANN (Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need) grant will be allocated to students in underrepresented groups, including women and minorities. The other $1 million — half supplied by the University and the other half matched by SPIE — will serve as a stipend and travel support for at least one additional student. The city of Rochester is home to more than 90 optics-related companies, and the university has produced one of three women to win the Nobel Prize for physics, Donna Strickland ’89 (PhD) for her work in laser energetics.