News Feature | December 1, 2021

Bright Ideas — Fluids Viable For Freeform Optics, Visible Light Modulators See Improved SWaP

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By Abby Proch, former editor


Scientists at imec want to get an even closer look at “superbugs.” With the backing of an ERC Starting Grant, a team is pursuing a high-resolution microscope on a chip with a scalable field of view that’s capable of identifying and examining the activities of superbugs such as Streptococcus Pneumoniae. According to, Principal Scientist Niels Verellen and his team are developing a lens-free fluorescence microscope that offers high resolution, a small footprint, and low cost. Project Coordinator Jerker Widengren says the new microscope prototype will image cellular proteins marked with fluorophores with “a ten-fold higher resolution than with any other fluorescence microscopy technique.”

Always evolving, integrated photonics has increasing importance and applicability in cutting edge applications like 5G networks and autonomous vehicles. Also on the upswing are the amount of researchers pursuing visible light for specific applications such as chip-scale LIDAR, AR/VR/MR goggles, and quantum processing chips. The problem with any meaningful headway lies with clunky, energy-consuming visible-spectrum phase modulators. But now, Columbia Engineering has found a way to reduce size, weight, and price (SWaP) that’s based on micro-ring resonators, according to The latest stride involves visible light LIDAR made up of “large 2D arrays of phase shifters based on adiabatic micro-rings.”

Perpetuating advances in quantum computing, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a more efficient way to shift the frequency, or color, of a photon — including those in the gigahertz frequency range. The team developed a “highly efficient, on-chip frequency shifter” that can convert light in the gigahertz frequency range built on a lithium niobate platform. Lithium niobate was long thought to be unfavorable for small scales, but researcher Marko Lončar and his team are proving otherwise.

In other research advances, Technion – Israel Institue of Technology has developed a new approach to manufacturing freeform optics that could make components more widely and readily available to the industrial market, according to Rather than moving to 3D printing or sticking with time-tested (and not-so-scalable methods), the team with Technion developed an alternative approach that involves shaping liquid into a specific geometry and then solidifying it. Specifically, the optical component is created by a “injection of a curable optical fluid into a rigid bounding frame contained within an immiscible immersion liquid environment.” The team perfected the process with spherical lenses and progressed to other geometries including toroids and trefoils.

To close out 2021, Optica, formerly the Optical Society of America (OSA), has named Rochester University professor Joseph Eberly its 2021 Honorary Member — the highest commendation bestowed to members. Optica chose Eberly, the Andrew Carnegie Professor of Physics and an optics professor, for his pioneering work, including the first observation of Bessel beams and the sudden death effect in quantum entanglement, among others. In addition to his breakthroughs and numerable awards, Eberly has published more than 400 scientific journal articles, coauthored textbooks, and cofounded three international conferences on quantum optical physics, according to a writeup by Rochester University.

In another year-end celebration, Optica has announced its winners for the 16th annual OPN After Image photo contest. Taking first place was a 697×526-μm image from Quimica Tech capturing “fluorescence of a laser engraving mark on a white plastic card.” In second, the University of Colorado Boulder created a swirl of blue, green, and pink representative of an orbital angular momentum (OAM) beam with charge L=2. The beauty and intensity of each is unique, but don’t take our word for it. Experience them here.

And to round out 2021, NASA says the much-anticipated James Webb Space Telescope will now be launched at 7:20 a.m. EST on Dec. 22, a few days later than scheduled. Officials delayed the launch after a clamp band that attaches the telescope to the launch vehicle adapter suddenly unlatched. The unexpected release caused vibrations throughout the observatory, prompting an anomaly review board to determine whether the incident had caused any damage. It had not. The James Webb Space Telescope will launch on the Ariane 5 rocket and is expected to provide pioneering images that will unearth new information about the origins of the universe.