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The century of the photon

- Wits University

Welcome to the photonics age where we will be harnessing light for a myriad of applications, says Professor Andrew Forbes.

Delivering his inaugural lecture, titled: Photonics for a brighter future, Forbes outlined how research into structured light has defined new paradigms and how it may fuel exciting future developments, both fundamental and applied.

A Distinguished Professor in the School of Physics, Forbes joined Wits in 2015 and is Head of the Structured Light Laboratory.

The team has already had some notable achievements: the creation of a vector microchip laser; the first demonstration of quantum interference in high dimensions; a new approach to packing information into light, which the group sent over free space (air) and optical fibre (glass), as well as bringing this cutting edge science back into teaching through the use of digital holograms to demonstrate some very basic physics and mathematics in a laboratory.

As one of the fastest growing technology fields, photonics (the harnessing of light and light-based technologies) are enabling technology that permeates our everyday lives, Forbes explained.

Forbes and his team are exploring new techniques with optical communication that include researching how to pack information into light, transmit it over distance and then unpack the information on the other side. This year the team has shown that data can be transmitted with over 100 patterns of light, effectively increasing in the amount of information that can be 'packed into light'.

The application for this research directly relates to increasing current bandwidth by 100 times, a huge boost for developing sufficient bandwidth to meet the growing demand from the impact of big data and advances in information technology.

But it is not only about increasing bandwidth. Looking into the future, Forbes said his team will also explore how to make data more secure by using the laws of physics and the rules of nature.