Needle Beam Propagates Without Spreading

A new type of light beam called a "needle beam" has been discovered by Harvard-led researchers. The needle beam apparently propagates without spreading outward, moving along a specially-prepared surface.


(Federico Capasso (left) and Patrice Genevet demo 'needle beam' tech)

The needle beam arises from a special class of quasiparticles called surface plasmons, which travel in tight confinement with a metal surface. The metallic stripes that carry these surface plasmons have the potential to replace standard copper electrical interconnects in microprocessors, enabling ultrafast on-chip communications.

One of the fundamental problems that has so far hindered the development of such optical interconnects is the fact that all waves naturally spread laterally during propagation, a phenomenon known as diffraction. This reduces the portion of the signal that can actually be detected.

"We have made a major step toward solving this problem by discovering and experimentally confirming the existence of a previously overlooked solution of Maxwell's equations that govern all light phenomena," says principal investigator Federico Capasso, Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at SEAS. "The solution is a highly localized surface plasmon wave that propagates for a long distance, approximately 80 microns in our experiments, in a straight line without any diffraction."

The so-called needle beam, the technical term for which is a cosine-Gauss plasmon beam, propagates in tight confinement with a nanostructured metal surface...

The idea of a form of electromagnetic communication that does not spread out is mentioned by EE 'Doc' Smith in his 1930 novel Skylark Three (see the article on tight-beam communication).

However, a closer match is probably the similarly-named needlecast from Richard Morgan's 2003 novel Altered Carbon:

"...How regular is the update?

Bancroft smiled. "Every 48 hours." He tapped the back of his neck. "Direct needlecast from here into a shielded stack over at the PsychaSec installation at Alcatraz."

Via Harvard.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 9/8/2012)

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