New method of harnessing light waves radically increases amount of data transmitted

EECS Associate Prof. Boubacar Kanté and his research team have found a new way to harness properties of light waves that can radically increase the amount of data they carry.  They demonstrated the emission of discrete twisting laser beams from antennas made up of concentric rings roughly equal to the diameter of a human hair, small enough to be placed on computer chips.  Described in a paper published in Nature Physics, this new technology overcomes current data capacity limits through a characteristic of light called orbital angular momentum (OAM). Potential applications include biological imaging, quantum cryptography, high-capacity communications and sensors.   “Having a larger quantum number is like having more letters to use in the alphabet,” said Kanté. “We’re allowing light to expand its vocabulary. In our study, we demonstrated this capability at telecommunication wavelengths, but in principle, it can be adapted to other frequency bands. Even though we created three lasers, multiplying the data rate by three, there is no limit to the possible number of beams and data capacity.”