News Feature | December 20, 2021

Bright Ideas — James Webb Telescope Is Ready, Intel Opens Photonics Center, First-Ever Optical Oscilloscope Developed

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By Abby Proch, Electronics Editor

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Researchers with the University of Central Florida have developed what they say is the world’s first optical oscilloscope — and it has the potential to help increase optical data transmission rates by a factor of 10,000. According to an Optics.org article, the tool can provide real-time comprehensive measurements of individual laser pulses whereas current methods only measure the average signal of a pulse of light, covering the “peaks and valleys,” but not the moments in between.

Recognizing the soon-approaching limits of electrical input/output technology and its inability to keep pace with network infrastructure, Intel has opened a new research center staffed with some of the sharpest minds in photonics “to accelerate optical I/O technology innovation in performance scaling and integration.” The Intel Research Center for Integrated Photonics for Data Center Interconnects aims to work beyond current expectations in terms of “reach, bandwidth density, power consumption and latency.”

Harnessing the power of UV light, one researcher has successfully guided and controlled the formation of nanocomposites, according to an article by Phys.org. Scientists have had recent success determining a crystal structure at the nanoscale, but now Ph.D. student Marloes Bistervels believes her method of using UV light as a chemical switch can control when and there they form. Bistervels believes her findings have implications in converting crystals into semiconductors without the need for a cleanroom.

It’s long been understood that snakes can sense threats based on their heat signatures. Now, one researcher is claiming that mice might have a similar ability. A British physicist with expertise in imaging claims that, under a microscope, mouse “guard hairs” exhibit a structure like that of some optical sensors. According to a Phys.org article, Baker believes that this structure may give the critter heat-sensing abilities and is asking biologists to determine whether mice’s skin have receptors in the skin that  process heat-sensing data from the fur.

In military news, the U.S. Navy again tested its Laser Weapons System Demonstrator (LWSD) Mark 2 MOD 0 last week in the Gulf of Aden, according to Optics.org. A directed energy weapon (DEW), the LWSD targeted a static object in the sea, much the same way it took down a UAV in May 2020. Sailors engaged the solid-state laser — reportedly developed by Northrop Grumman — from aboard the USS Portland.

The launch of the much-anticipated James Webb Space Telescope has been delayed yet again, this time by just a few days. According to a NASA update, the telescope, housed in the Ariane 5 rocket, will now launch no earlier than 7:20 a.m. on Dec. 25, Christmas Day. The JWST has encountered a series of setbacks, the latest being a poor weather conditions and a bad communication link, according to the AP. Originally slated to launch in October 2018, the much-anticipated JWST will aim to capture the origins of our universe.

CACI has officially bolstered its stance in the space market after closing a deal to acquire SA Photonics, a firm specializing in optical communications, lasers, and sensing systems for space. CACI CEO and President John Mengucci called space technologies a “top priority,” having recently secured General Service Administration ASTRO contracts and acquired two other companies operating in the space market and dark web intelligence, respectively, according to Executive Gov.

Meanwhile, SA Photonics’ optical communications system will debut aboard a PredaSAR satellite that the latter has announced it will send data to a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) satellite in low Earth orbit (LEO). According to a report by Space News, PredaSAR hopes to launch its first satellite near the end of 2022 to become a “commercial provider of imagery collected by synthetic aperture radar sensors.” The SA Photonics’ communications terminal will send data to one of DARPA’s Blackjack satellites. The collaboration is just a small part of a larger effort to bring more satellites into LEO for both military and commercial benefit.

Finally, SPIE announced the finalists for its 2022 Prism Awards. Celebrating industrial innovations in photonics and optics, the awards will be given to winners at the upcoming Photonics West conference and exhibition in San Francisco. Award categories include augmented and virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, better sensing, biomedical devices, displays, industrial lasers, manufacturing and test, quantum, scientific lasers, and software.