Wits pioneers world first light acceleration

Cape Town - Wits University researchers have developed a way to accelerate light that could eventually lead to much faster internet speeds and benefits for medical technology.

Professor Andrew Forbes and his team of the School of Physics have demonstrated that the technology could be used to create a 30 times increase in the bandwidth of communications systems.

The next generation of high speed internet will consist of fibre optical connections, which rely on the transmission of data by light. However, Forbes cautioned against immediate expectations from the world first development.

"Okay, at the moment this research is not directly coupled to this. In the present work I have shown how to make light accelerate, which is not something it is meant to do," Forbes told Fin24.

Previously, Forbes and his collaborators have shown that light could be made to spin. In this latest work, they have created digital holograms.

Medical test technologies

"I create holograms that are written to LCD displays – like the TV in your house – and then teach the device to create the patterns of light I want," said Forbes.

He joined the Wits School of Physics in March this year, and heads up the new Structured Light Laboratory that focuses on creating custom light fields using digital holograms. The research group creates complex light that exhibits interesting physical properties, which they exploit for a range of applications.

"From a purely science perspective it is interesting to test old concepts with this new idea. For example, if we replace the 'light' with 'electrons', can we make self-accelerating electrons that do not radiate any light? This would be considered impossible before," Forbes said.

But he also foresees using the innovation to develop medical test technologies that could speed up the diagnosis for certain conditions.

"On a more practical level, there is a drive toward lab-on-a-chip technologies in the biological and health sections. The idea is to make a diagnostic that is very small - electronic chip size - so that the samples are analysed in real time rather than transported to a large, physical laboratory."

The accelerating light could be used to pump fluid so that accurate readings could be taken.

The research paper is available on the Wits website.

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