Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

Posts tagged ‘fiber optics’

Fake limbs, OK — but fake whisky, no way!

One of Wired magazine’s blogs has reported that the military is investigating laser-powered prosthetic limbs for wounded soldiers. Tiny, squishy microsensors would detect nerve impulses from the patient’s body and transmit them through a network of optical fibers to and from the sensors and motors in the patient’s artificial limb. Since fibers can transmit a lot more information than wiring, they should be able to handle the complex signaling involved in simple tasks such as picking up a coffee cup.

In other news … where else but Scotland, home to the single-malt Scotch, would you find research on the spectroscopic properties of whisky? The BBC reports that researchers at St. Andrews University have developed a method for performing near-infrared Raman spectroscopy of tiny (20 microliters) samples of alcoholic beverages on a optofluidic chip. The method could lend itself to quality control — as well as rapid detection of counterfeit versions of the precious beverage. You can savor the full single-malt research paper in Optics Express.


This British royal wedding brought to you by … British technological ideas

I’ll admit it … I’m a bit of an Anglophile. When I was 14 I started saving pennies in an old Band-Aid tin in the hopes of traveling to England someday. I finally got there when I was 29, just before I got my wisdom teeth pulled.

So I’m planning to rise incredibly early tomorrow, for at least long enough to switch on the second-hand VCR (it didn’t come with a remote control, so I can’t program it). But while I watch the magnificent splendor of the wedding of the future king of Great Britain, I will be thinking of the Brits who made it possible for us billions of worldwide viewers to see the ceremony progress in real time.

First of all, as everyone who’s ever cracked open a science-fiction novel knows, Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) dreamed up the concept of a geostationary communications satellite in 1945, long before any country on Earth had the ability to launch an “artificial moon.” Though famously a resident of Sri Lanka for more than half of his life, Sir Arthur was born in England and studied mathematics and physics at King’s College London.

Back in the 1960s, Sir Charles Kao, then working at the U.K.’s premier industrial telecommunications laboratory, got

silica fibers courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

silica fibers

the idea for using fiber optics to transmit data. Kao was born in Shanghai, but his family moved to Hong Kong (then British) when he was a teenager, and he earned his Ph.D. at University College London. Kao and his British lab colleagues worked hard to study the structural and material properties of optical fibers, and then Kao became something of a scientific evangelist, advocating for the adoption of single-mode fiber and predicting that the world’s oceans would be crisscrossed by cables five years before the first transatlantic telecom cable was installed. He was one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2009.

So, whether the images of the lovely Kate and the dashing Prince Wills arrive at your “telly” via satellite or optical cable, you have someone with a British education to thank.

Incidentally, OSA’s first president from outside North America was a Brit — Sir Peter Knight of Imperial College London. Besides Imperial, several U.K. universities have distinguished programs in optics and photonics, including the University of Southampton — and William and Kate’s alma mater, the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The “Anti-Laser” and Other News

Particle physics has “antiparticles,” but does laser physics have “anti-lasers”? Actually, it does, thanks to the folks at Yale University, who have come up with a proof-of-concept device that absorbs specific wavelengths of light in the reverse of the method for generating light at specific frequencies. I wrote about it for the Newsroom section of OPN’s website. Read it now, before it vanishes behind the OSA-members-only paywall.

In other news, this is the week that OFC/NFOEC happens in Los Angeles, Calif. It’s a huge conference devoted to all aspects of fiber optics and optical communications. I’ve attended the meeting a couple of times — in 2007 and 2008, I think. This year, OFC/NFOEC has a social media hub that links to the OFC/NFOEC blog. As of now, that blog contains mostly pre-conference musings, but I suspect that will change over the next few days.

Speaking of blogs … since this site is new, I’ll be adding links to the blogroll as I find them. I’m looking for good blogs on the optical sciences, astrophysics, and science journalism. If you have any nominees for my blogroll, please send me a link through the comment section below. Thank you in advance!