Superhighway: Researchers create world's smallest light-guiding technology

Ultra-thin 2D waveguide can trap and carry light over relatively long distances

university-of-chicagoglass-crystal--trap-and-carry-light-Credit-Jean-Lachat A glass crystal just a few atoms thick, appearing as a delicate line at the center of the plastic, is held by study co-author, Hanyu Hong | Jean Lachat

The future is looking incredibly bright – thanks to a few atoms thick piece of glass crystal that carries light in a 2D space!

Researchers at the University of Chicago have revolutionised the way we guide light, unveiling a technology that's not only incredibly thin but also astonishingly efficient. Imagine a sheet of glass crystal so minuscule, it's just a few atoms thick, yet it can trap and carry light over relatively long distances – up to a centimeter! This incredible discovery, known as a 2D optical waveguide, could pave the way for a new era of technology.

The lead author of the study, Professor Jiwoong Park, and his team used ingenious experiments to demonstrate the power of this super-thin crystal. They found that this revolutionary waveguide acts as a kind of light highway, allowing us to guide photons (particles of light) along its path. Unlike existing bulky 3D photonic circuits, this 2D waveguide lets part of the photon stick out as it travels, making it more flexible and easier to manipulate using lenses and prisms.

This breakthrough has tremendous potential. Think of it as building microscopic sensors that can detect specific molecules as the light waves travel through a sample. For example, if you had a liquid sample, you could use this waveguide to sense the presence of a particular molecule based on how the light behaves. This level of precision opens the door to a wide range of applications, from advanced sensors to super-compact photonic circuits.

The scientists behind this discovery faced significant challenges during their years-long journey to make it a reality. They had to develop everything from growing the ultra-thin material (molybdenum disulfide) to measuring the behavior of the light. This groundbreaking research has been published in the prestigious journal Science.

In simple terms, this new 2D optical waveguide is like a microscopic superhighway for light, allowing us to control and direct it in a more efficient and precise manner than ever before. This breakthrough has the potential to reshape technology, making it smaller, faster, and more adaptable. Imagine the possibilities of integrating these thin photonic circuits into tiny chip areas, unlocking a whole new world of compact and powerful devices.