SMT, PCB Electronics Industry News

Lattice from Light Bulbs Could Boost Communication, Vehicle Power

May 13, 2002

The Nando Times

Albuquerque, NM

The same small structure Sandia National Laboratories scientists developed to transform light bulbs could also be used to make faster telecommunications equipment and more efficient cars.

The structure, called a photonic lattice, is a microscopic cage that traps heat and light that would normally escape from a system and transforms it into usable energy.

One way the structure could be used is to create light-based computer chips that could make communications over fiber optic cable easier and more efficient, said Jim Fleming, a Sandia scientist.

Equipment that sends light across fiber optic cable is currently large and cumbersome. The smallest cable is about the size of a pen, and larger equipment can be as big as a desk or bigger.

The Sandia structure could miniaturize that to the size of a computer chip, Fleming said.

The chip would hold networks of the small cages, which scientists could use to channel light - almost like water - along a path and filter specific colors out, sending them in different directions, Fleming said.

Telecom companies use different-colored light signals to send different types of information over fiber optic cable.

"It will look sort of like a three-dimensional maze," he said. "You can make tunnels and send the light through them; you can bend it around corners. It's like the semiconductor industry. They started out using big, bulky vacuum tubes but finally were able to transform those components into small parts of a semiconductor chip.

"The light industry is still in that vacuum tube stage," he said, "but this can help us transition so we can make components very small."

The cages also could be used to create extra-efficient battery systems that could power cars or small generators. The tiny structure traps much more of the available energy that would otherwise be lost as heat or unused light.

The cagelike photonic lattice was first designed about 15 years ago, but the technology to build a lattice at the microscopic scale hadn't developed until recently.

"From here we need to get a better understanding of the theory behind these lattices so we can understand more about the future applications," Fleming said.

"They work, but we don't fully understand why they work the way they do. We don't know how the energy is changed from one form to another - how something that would usually come out as heat instead comes out as light."

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