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October 18, 1998

PHYSICISTS BRING OPTICAL COMPUTING ONE STEP CLOSER

By CBR Staff Writer

A physicist at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico has discovered a way of bending light through ninety degrees with transmission efficiencies between 90% and 100% that brings optical computers one step closer. Shawn-Yu Lin, working with colleges at Sandia and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fashioned a device that is composed of a lattice of alumina rods about a millimeter apart. Light with wavelengths smaller than the separation width of the rods cannot pass through them as the waves interfere and destroy each other. If a row of rods is removed to form a right-angled passage through the device, light travels through the passage with virtually no loss into the body of the device. If this can be done on a much smaller scale, allowing the guiding of light with much smaller wavelengths, it could pave the way for high-speed optical switches and computers. Presently, optical fibers and other waveguides can transmit light with equally high degrees of efficiency, but cannot be bent too sharply.

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