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New research enlightens on ultrafast dynamics

Measuring ultrashort laser pulses among the shortest events ever created in optics - has been a more difficult challenge for scientists than developing techniques for creating them. An EU-funded project successfully developed a high-performance photonic device that can provide novel approaches enabling the agile identification of ultrashort optical pulses in their complex nature.
New research enlightens on ultrafast dynamics
Ultrashort optical pulses form an increasingly important tool for areas ranging from communications to medical science and engineering where extreme precision is required. Whether it is the ability to deliver extremely high instantaneous powers or the duration that makes these pulses critical to applications, the ability to characterise their electric field dynamics in time or frequency will extend the reliability of current ultrafast optical techniques.

This is where the EU-funded project INCIPIT comes into play. Given the critical role of ultrashort optical pulses in photonic systems, the project team focused on performing new types of experiments and developing pulse characterisation devices that are potentially more versatile and efficient compared to the state of the art.

Light-matter interaction in integrated photonics

Optical pulses can be characterised in terms of various parameters including the pulse duration, spatio-temporal shape, energy and coherence. Although ultrashort pulse measurement techniques have come a long way over the last years, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Furthermore, conventional pulse characterisation instrumentation is also typically bulky, in many cases relying on moving parts. “Precise and versatile ultrashort-pulse measurement techniques and devices that are at least as robust as ultrashort pulse generation are critical to the study of light-matter interaction for fundamental science and technology alike,” notes professor Marco Peccianti.

Control of light-matter interaction in photonic structures such as waveguides, resonators and interferometers is central, amongst others, to next-generation integrated circuits. “Leveraging integrated photonic circuitry holds the potential to reduce the size and power consumption of optical devices, and improve reliability, all while enabling new functions,” says Dr Benjamin Wetzel.

In INCIPIT, theoretical and experimental work was geared towards the study of optical interactions between ultrashort pulses propagating into photonic waveguides on integrated photonic chips. New photonic chip prototypes and approaches proved to be a promising tool for the ultrashort pulses, allowing scientists to qualify their nature while removing key bulky components.

Overall, researchers’ activities led to advances in a wide spectrum, spanning the demonstration and control of novel optical quantum states, the experimental generation and characterisation of peculiar and elusive types of optical pulses, as well as the development of novel optical sources. Remarkable achievements include the realisation of an on-chip optical frequency comb, an on-chip bi-chromatic optical parametric oscillator, as well as a mode-locked laser with a record-low spectral bandwidth.

Ultrafast computers and optical networks

With the development of increasingly miniaturised transistors, gains in computing speed and power along with decreases in device size have been going hand-in-hand. Photonic chips compatible with current electronic platforms that involve ultrashort pulses of femtosecond duration can significantly boost the computing power and speed of future photonic and quantum systems, as well as push future optical networks towards incredibly high data rates.

INCIPIT shared knowledge with the research community through several publications in peer-reviewed journals and presentations at relevant conferences.

Subjects

Life Sciences

Keywords

INCIPIT, ultrashort optical pulses, photonic chip, integrated photonic, pulse qualification, ultrafast dynamics, ultrafast computers
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