News Feature | October 6, 2021

Bright Ideas: 10/6/21 — 3D Hologram Display For Sub Warfare, UV LED Could Kill COVID-19 On Skin

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By Abby Proch, Electronics Editor

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Using singular photons, a UK-based firm claims it has created the world’s smallest quantum computer — with just four qubits. The system isn’t cryogenically cooled like most, but instead operates at room temperature, according to a report by Yahoo! News. However, the Orca Computing rendition is quite small and carries about the same power as a thermostat or Apple Watch. Its most pressing challenge is scalability, especially when compared to developments by Google, IBM and Rigetti, explained quantum-computing expert John Morton, a professor at University College London. Orca says it plans to scale up over the next two years.

In military news, Kongsberg Geospatial and Avalon Holographics are together developing a 3D holographic display for submarine warfare. According to Navy Recognition, the two will create a display composed of millions of hogels, or holographic elements, that combines passive SONAR data and three-dimensional bathymetric data. It will not require headsets or goggles to operate. The intended result is to reduce the cognitive strain on SONAR analysts and, given improved underwater situational awareness, help them improve their decision-making confidence and timeliness. The project is funded, in part, by the Canadian Department of National Defense.

Also in military news, SA Photonics of Las Gatos, California, agreed to a $10.2 million contract with the U.S. Army for a flight-qualified, production-ready augmented reality (AR) display system. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, SA Photonics was the only bidder for the project. The completion date is estimated for September 2024.

EU-funded consortium GRACED claims its new plasmo-photonic bimodal multiplexing sensor platform can detect harmful pesticides and bacteria on the surfaces of fruits and vegetables in about 30 minutes. That’s 50 to 100 times quicker than existing technologies, according an article by New Electronics. The revolution not only trims time from a very complex process but has potential to prevent poisonings and even saves lives.

The platform uses laser light to detect chosen chemical or biological analytes as indicated in the sensor set up. The light traveling back to the sensor produces an evanescent field. Receptors can then determine the contaminants when comparing the resulting interference pattern to a set of existing values. Looking ahead, the GRACED team believes its sensor technology could also mitigate the risk of contaminated gray water used in irrigation for vertical and urban farming.

Also in food production news, scientists are using terahertz radiation to measure ice thickness on frozen prawns to ensure accurate product weight, according to an article in Phys.org. Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and fishing company Royal Greenland say the process measures the thickness of the ice, usually between 0.5 mm and 1 mm, by directing radiation at the object and noting the “small echo” that exists at the meeting point of the prawn and the ice.

This method allows food scientists to accurately measure ice accumulation, which can be tricky with inevitable discrepancies in prawn size and shape, and thereby meet standards for food weight (which cannot include the ice’s weight). But the tech is too expensive to deploy as is. Having spent $234,000 to create the system, DTU is currently looking at ways to cut costs, including other options in semiconductor technology.

In automotive news, early reports from the U.S. Department of Energy claim laser-interference structuring (LIS) could replace chromate conversion coating and sulfuric acid anodizing for corrosion protection in aluminum alloy. Both of those processes release harmful compounds with risks to human health (from irritating skin and eyes to permanent lung damage) and to the environment.

According to the Dept. of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, with this nonchemical alternative, the dissolution of copper-rich precipitates accounted for the notable corrosion resistance. However, when samples were coated with primer or primer and topcoat, the effect was not as promising as that of chemical solvent methods, they said. Still, the research does have implications for improving what is a $20 billion yearly endeavor for the Department of Defense to prevent corrosion in its military vehicles and aircraft.

Looking ahead, Photonics Days Berlin Brandenburg 2021 will see the debut of two novel developments: yellow-green lasers for ophthalmological use and UV LED-based solutions for inactivating COVID-19 on human skin. According to a press release by the Ferdinand-Braun-Institut, Leibniz-Institut für Höchstfrequenztechnik (FBH), the research institute has developed a new yellow-green laser module tunable to a wavelength range from 532 nm to 590 nm to replace existing dye and copper bromide lasers. The laser will offer up to 2 watts of output power in continuous wave operation and be smaller in size than its predecessor.

LBH is also showcasing a UV LED-based irradiation system it’s developing to inactivate drug-resistant pathogens — such as MRSA and COVID-19 and other coronaviruses — that does not harm skin. The system uses 120 LEDs that emit light at 233 nm wavelength (below the harmful threshold of 240 nm) and offer more than 3 mW out power at 200 mA.

Finally, in academia, the University of Arizona broke ground on a new $99 million optics research facility this past week. Tuscon.com reports that the seven-story, 115,000-square foot Grand Challenges Research Building will house laboratories and research spaces dedicated to optics, quantum computing, advanced communications and biomedical technologies. In 2020, the university received a $26 million National Science Foundation grant to found the Center for Quantum Networks, which will also exist within the facility.