Microcombs have immense potential in various fields, from space exploration to healthcare. However, their current inefficiency hinders their ability to reach their full potential. In a groundbreaking development, researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have successfully found a solution to enhance the efficiency of microcombs by tenfold. This breakthrough opens new avenues for discoveries in space and healthcare, as well as the potential for high-performance lasers in a wide range of technologies.
Microcombs, also known as laser frequency combs, possess the ability to measure frequencies with unparalleled precision. They have been regarded as the most disruptive technological advancement in the field since the invention of the laser itself. In essence, a microcomb can be thought of as a ruler made of light. The principle behind microcombs involves a laser emitting photons that circulate within a small cavity known as a microresonator. These photons are divided into a vast range of frequencies which are precisely positioned in relation to one another, resembling markings on a ruler. This unique property allows the creation of a new light source composed of hundreds, or even thousands, of frequencies that work harmoniously like synchronized lasers.
Since optical measurements are closely linked to light frequencies, microcombs have an array of applications. They can be used to calibrate instruments that measure signals over vast distances in space in the quest for exoplanets. Additionally, they can aid in monitoring and tracking our health through analyzing the air we exhale. However, the efficiency of microcombs has been a longstanding challenge that limited their impact on society. The conversion efficiency between the laser and microcomb was considerably weak, resulting in only a fraction of the laser beam’s power being usable.
The Chalmers research team has successfully developed a novel method to enhance the power of microcomb laser beams by a factor of ten. This groundbreaking achievement has increased the efficiency of the microcomb from a mere 1% to over 50%. The newly devised method involves the use of two microresonators, as opposed to one. These microresonators form a unique ensemble with properties that surpass the sum of their individual parts. One of the resonators facilitates the coupling of the laser’s light with the other resonator, akin to impedance matching in the realm of electronics.
The advent of these new microcombs holds transformative potential as it brings high-performance laser technology to a wider range of markets. For instance, frequency combs could be employed in lidar modules for autonomous driving or integrated into GPS satellites and environmental sensing drones. Data centers could also benefit from this advanced technology by enabling bandwidth-intensive artificial intelligence applications. Victor Torres Company, a Professor of Photonics at Chalmers, emphasizes the significant possibilities that lie ahead. The researchers have recently patented the technology and established Iloomina AB, a company aimed at bringing this technology to a broader market.
The breakthrough in microcomb efficiency achieved by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology represents a momentous advancement. By overcoming the previous limitations, these new microcombs unlock a myriad of applications in various fields. They hold the potential to revolutionize space exploration, healthcare, autonomous driving, environmental sensing, and data centers. As we embark on this new era of high-performance lasers, the possibilities for innovation and discovery are boundless.