A UCF team developed the world’s first optical oscilloscope, an instrument capable of measuring the electric field of light. The device converts oscillations of light into electrical signals, much like hospital monitors convert a patient’s heart rate into electrical oscillations.
Until now, reading electric field of light has been a challenge due to the high speeds at which light waves oscillate. The most advanced techniques, which power our telephone & Internet communications, can currently clock electric fields at frequencies up to gigahertz, covering radio frequency & microwave regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Light waves oscillate at much higher rates, allowing the transmission of higher density of information. However, current instruments for measuring light fields could only resolve an average signal associated with a “pulse” of light, and not the peaks & valleys in the pulse. Measuring these peaks & valleys within a single pulse is important because it is in that-space-that-information can be packaged & delivered.
“Fiber optic communications have take-advantage of light to make things faster, but we’re still functionally limited by the speed of oscilloscope,” says associate professor of physics Michael Chini, who worked on research at UCF. “Our optical oscilloscope might be able to increase that speed by a factor of about 10,000.
The team’s findings were published in the journal Nature Photonics this week.
The team developed the device & demonstrated its ability to measure electric fields of individual laser pulses in real time in Chini’s lab at UCF. The next step for the team is to see how far they can push the speed limits of technique.