Scientists unlock low-cost material to shape light for industry

February 18, 2020 //By Julien Happich
optical material
Researchers in Australia have found a way to manipulate laser light at a fraction of the cost of current technology.

The discovery, published in Advanced Science under the title “Solution‐Processed Faraday Rotators Using Single Crystal Lead Halide Perovskites”, could help drive down costs in industries as diverse as telecommunications, medical diagnostics and consumer optoelectronics. The research team, led by Dr Girish Lakhwani from the University of Sydney Nano Institute and School of Chemistry, has used inexpensive crystals, known as perovskites, to make Faraday rotators. These manipulate light in a range of devices across industry and science by altering a fundamental property of light – its polarisation. This gives scientists and engineers the ability to stabilise, block or steer light on demand.

Faraday rotators are used at the source of broadband and other communication technologies, blocking reflected light that would otherwise destabilise lasers and amplifiers. They are used in optical switches and fibre-optic sensors as well.

“The global optical switches market alone is worth more than $US4.5 billion and is growing. The major competitive advantage perovskites have over current Faraday isolators is the low cost of material and ease of processing that would allow for scalability”, said Dr Lakhwani.

(From left): Dr Girish Lakhwani, Dr Stefano Bernardi and
Dr Randy Sabatini. Photo: Stefanie Zingsheim/University of Sydney

To date, the industry standard for Faraday rotators has been terbium-based garnets. Dr Lakhwani and colleagues at the Australian Research Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science have used lead-halide perovskites, which could prove a less expensive alternative.

“Development and uptake of our technology could be aided by the excellent positioning of Australia within the Asia-Pacific region, which is growing rapidly due to increasing investments in its high-speed communication infrastructure”, commented Dr Lakhwani.

The lead-halide perovskites used by the Lakhwani group are a class of materials that have been gaining a lot of traction in the scientific community, thanks to a combination of excellent optical properties and low production costs.

“Interest in perovskites really started with solar cells,” said Dr Randy Sabatini, a postdoctoral researcher leading the project in the Lakhwani group.

“They are efficient and much less expensive than traditional silicon cells, which are made using a costly process known as the Czochralski or Cz method. Now, we’re looking at another application, Faraday rotation, where the commercial standards are also made using the Cz method. Just like in solar cells, it seems like perovskites might be able to compete here as well.”

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