New Research Initiatives Use Photonics to Address Wireless and Bandwidth Limitations

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Optica Foundation Challenge introduces research aimed at solving emerging data requirements 

USD$200,000 awarded to two research teams to address global wireless and bandwidth issues Introducing terahertz for wireless communications   Managing today’s data demand

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — The Optica Foundation today released more detailed information on data communications research funded by the 2023 Optica Foundation Challenge. Work from researchers Ahmed Dorrah, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, USA, and Ying Xue, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong, will demonstrate unique responses to emerging data and bandwidth limitations.

“As the demand for high-speed data transfer dramatically increases, communication networks need to accommodate such advances in an energy-efficient, safe, and cost-effective manner,” said Alan Willner, chair of the Challenge Selection Committee. “Drs. Dorrah and Xue are attacking such fundamental issues from differing and highly innovative perspectives, including mitigating the limitations associated with free-space optics and photonic integrated circuits.”

Both research efforts are supported by a USD$100,000 grant from the Optica Foundation, and Dorrah and Xue will use these funds to advance their work in the following ways:

A new range of light for wireless communications

Ahmed Dorrah, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, USA
Structured light generation and sensing with metasurfaces for THz communications
Research Executive Summary

Free space optics have revealed much promise for wireless communications because they are not hindered by physical connections, which is why the global free space optical (FSO) communications market is projected to reach USD$7 billion by 2030 with a CAGR of 30%. Terahertz (THz) radiation, which offers larger bandwidth than current wireless standards with minimal external effects, holds the potential to reinforce use of FSO communications. Still, it has been hindered by the shortage of affordable cameras with the correct attributes to detect and read light signals.

In his work, Ahmed Dorrah, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, USA, seeks answers to these stopgaps. By developing efficient schemes for sensing and generating THz beams, Dorrah believes he can leverage them for use in FSO communications and beyond.

Dorrah proposes applying metasurfaces, or flat optics structures designed to control light, to convert any 1D THz power detector array to a full 2D wavefront camera for capturing light signals. Essentially, the metasurface performs a set of operations on incoming light and projects the result onto a power detector, enabling the full reading of the THz beam profile with high resolution and over broadband.

“The THz range has potential to be hugely successful in free space because it holds a wider bandwidth than microwaves and can enable a new generation of wireless communications, including 6G,” said Dorrah. “On an academic scale, I hope to inspire others who work with structured light in the visible regime to try to develop elegant and affordable techniques for structuring light in the THz regime.”

As a first step, Dorrah and his collaborators will work to design and model the appropriate metasurface. After about six months, he expects they will begin testing the metasurface “camera” and its efficiency in a proof of concept that will advance the FSO movement.  

A bandwidth benefactor

Ying Xue, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong
Monolithic III-V active devices in-plane coupled with Si for integrated Si-photonics
Research Executive Summary

By 2025, global data creation is expected to climb to more than 180 zettabytes, and this growth is creating a communication bottleneck in silicon-based integrated circuits and systems. In addition, solutions that have emerged to respond to these issues have been impeded by fabrication, production and economic constraints. 

However, new work from Ying Xue, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong, plans to respond to these issues by introducing a novel integration method called lateral aspect ratio trapping (LART). With LART, Xue can focus on the placement of high-performance lasers exactly where they are needed in a photonic integrated circuit in an efficient, scalable and low-cost manner. In addition, she will enable the integration of electronics and photonics on the same chip, supporting the next generation of datacom and telecom.

“This is complex work, but it will address the issues of integrated photonics delivering on the promises of silicon photonics,” summed up Xue. “We are looking at the complete functionality of a photonic integrated circuit on silicon, enabling large bandwidth, low cost, and the integration of electronics on the same chip. It will open new opportunities in research and industry.”

Xue reports her first step is to design the template on the substrate, including the laser structure and fabrication process. In six months, she anticipates running experiments on an initial template, fine tuning and determining designs for electrically pumped lasers in silicon photonics.

These research initiatives were made possible through the Optica Foundation Challenge grants. This challenge was designed to engage early-career professionals in out-of-the-box thinking and provide seed money to investigate hypotheses in the areas of environment, health and information. Each recipient received USD$100,000 to explore their ideas and take steps toward addressing critical global issues. Recipients have begun working on these projects and expect to report initial results in 2024. For more information, visit

About Optica
Optica (formerly OSA), Advancing Optics and Photonics Worldwide, is the society dedicated to promoting the generation, application, archiving and dissemination of knowledge in the field. Founded in 1916, it is the leading organization for scientists, engineers, business professionals, students and others interested in the science of light. Optica’s renowned publications, meetings, online resources and in-person activities fuel discoveries, shape real-life applications and accelerate scientific, technical and educational achievement. Discover more at:

About Optica Foundation
Optica Foundation donors believe that by attracting, supporting and retaining the most capable young scientists and engineers in optics, we can drive breakthroughs that shape our future. By investing in student and early-career professionals and fostering their interest, we ensure the continued advancement of our field. For over 20 years, the Optica Foundation has been dedicated to this endeavor.



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