Electrical Engineers at UC San Diego Demonstrate Revolutionary Photonic Technology
Team Achieves World Record for Wavelength Translation
San Diego, CA, March 28, 2006 -- Until now much of the investment on equipment to generate, transport and detect signals traveling through optical fiber has revolved around 1.55 micron (infrared) as the standard wavelength for telecommunications. Yet many critical new applications rely on other wavelengths (colors) for optical transmission that hitherto could not be generated, carried or received by today's standard equipment. Now, researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) have demonstrated a way to build on the dominant infrastructure rather than replace it -- by "translating" optical signals between the current infrared standard and a wide range of other bands of light.
At the Optical Fiber Conference (OFC) in Anaheim, CA, earlier this month, the team from UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering announced that they successfully used a parametric process in photonic crystal fiber to change the wavelengths of modulated optical channels from 1.55 micron (1550 nanometers) infrared to a visible light signal at half a micron -- a record 1 micron difference. The researchers measured a difference in frequency between the infrared starting point and the visible-light end point of 375 terahertz (THz), a factor of ten greater than previously achieved.
"This work demonstrates a revolutionary technology for new applications that include airborne and submarine communications, standoff spectroscopy and remote sensing," said Stojan Radic, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) in the Jacobs School and leader of the UCSD team. "The parametric band translator means that mature telecom technology can be applied to any other wavelength, permitting development of new applications at various bands without requiring huge investment in new infrastructure to replace what already exists."
Researchers also reported the first multiple channel mapping over the same spectral range, thus demonstrating arbitrary capacity mapping across the entire visible band.
"This is an amazing accomplishment, and Professor Radic never ceases to amaze me with his ambition and vision of what is possible," said Larry Smarr, a professor of computer science and engineering in the Jacobs School and director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), which is supporting Radic's work through the institute's new Photonics Lab at UCSD. "This experiment is precisely the type of cutting-edge research that we expect will be a hallmark of the projects enabled as more and more faculty move into the new lab." (For more on the Calit2 Photonics Lab, see box at left.)
The ability to translate signals for transport through the fiber transmission window has dramatic implications for equipment manufacturers and users. Telecom and fiber-optic companies have built generations of lasers, detectors, amplifiers and sophisticated signaling devices around 1.55 micron infrared as the standard. But other wavelengths of light may be better suited for a variety of applications.
Unfortunately, most technologies developed for 1.55 microns are not available for other parts of the spectral range. Complex, fast phase or amplitude modulation is rarely possible outside of this band, and fast 1.55 micron receivers are superior to those in any other band. There is also no equivalent of the erbium-doped fiber amplifier.
Critical new applications exist outside the standard telecommunication bandwidth. Free-space communication requires mid- and far-infrared bands. Undersea communication uses visible wavelengths, and general sensing applications can occupy any band from ultraviolet to infrared. "Unfortunately," explained Radic, "the development of these new, band-specific technologies would necessarily multiply enormous investments already made in fiber telecommunications."
The paper presented at OFC was co-authored by Radic and fellow ECE professors Shaya Fainman and Joseph Ford, their graduate students, and Bell Labs scientist Colin McKinstrie.*
Professor Radic and his colleagues have used their extensive experience in parametric fiber technology to pursue the translator concept. The team holds a record in parametric amplification, and it was the first to demonstrate 40-gigabit-per-second, bit-level optical switching and multicasting in parametric fiber.
As it currently stands, the UCSD translator architecture allows for arbitrary band mapping from half a micron to five microns. More demonstrations are planned for the testbed in the newly-built Calit2 Photonics Laboratory.
The translator work is currently funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Lockheed Martin Corporation and the National Science Foundation.
* "375 THz Parametric Translation of Modulated Signal from 1550nm to Visible Band," Rui Jiang, Robert Saperstein, Nikola Alic, Maziar Nezhad, Colin J. McKinstrie, Joseph Ford, Yeshaiahu Fainman and Stojan Radic (all UCSD Electrical and Computer Engineering except Bell Labs' McKinstrie). Postdeadline paper accepted at OFCNFOEC 2006, March 5-10, 2006.