Lighting breakthrough

 
Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) Research Fellow Dr Shahraam Afshar has made this discovery.

Optical fibres usually act like pipes for light, with the light bouncing around inside the pipe. As you shrink down the size of the fibre, the light becomes more and more confined too, until you reach the ultimate limit-the point beyond which light cannot be squeezed any smaller.

This ultimate point occurs when the strand of glass is just a few hundred nanometers in diameter, about one thousandth of the size of a human hair. If you go smaller than this, light begins to spread out again.

The Adelaide researchers have discovered they can now push beyond that limit by at least a factor of two. They can do this due to new breakthroughs in the theoretical understanding of how light behaves at the nanoscale, and thanks to the use of a new generation of nanoscale optical fibres being developed at the Institute.

“By being able to use our optical fibres as sensors—rather than just using them as pipes to transmit light—we can develop tools that, for example, could easily detect the presence of a flu virus at an airport; could help IVF (in vitro fertilisation) specialists to determine which egg should be chosen for fertilisation; could gauge the safety of drinking water; or could alert maintenance crews to corrosion occurring in the structure of an aircraft,” said Tanya Monro, Federation Fellow at the University of Adelaide.

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