A group of European scientists has published details of research into 3D photonic crystals which they believe could "revolutionise" the telecoms industry.
The partners in the NewTon project expect to have developed the first functional components of this new technology by the end of 2008.
In a three-year project, BASF is examining the development of these crystals together with partners such as Hanover Laser Center, Thales Aerospace Division, Photon Design, the Technical University of Denmark and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications de Bretagne.
The long-term goal is to use 3D photonic crystals as construction elements in telecommunications. Half of the project is being funded by the European Union.
The researchers said that many times more information can be transmitted by light in the same time as has so far been possible with electricity.
This is why telephone conversations, websites, photographs or music, for example, are now increasingly being transmitted in optical fibres.
At present, however, this technology still has one drawback at the 'network nodes'. Routing of the information to the end-user is still done electrically, because no competitive, compact all-optical routing processor is yet available.
To solve this problem the NewTon team aims to develop a photonic crystal capable of reflecting only single colours of the white light depending on the observation angle.
This phenomenon is known in nature: the shimmering colours on butterfly wings derive from the properties of photonic crystals.
"A structured 3D photonic crystal could be the key component for a compact optical semiconductor or even for an all-optical routing processor," said Dr Reinhold J. Leyrer, project leader in BASF's Polymer Research division. " Converting optical signals into electrical signals would then be superfluous."
Manufacturers of components for telecoms systems would benefit most from the use of photonic crystals.
Since the crystals are smaller than electronic components, equipment would also become increasingly smaller and cheaper while simultaneously offering improved performance.
Components and equipment based on photonic crystals would also be more resistant and less vulnerable to electromagnetic radiation.
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