Scientists at the University of Adelaide have discovered that light can be squeezed into much thinner optical fibers than was previously believed possible.
The discovery is expected to lead to more efficient tools for optical data processing in telecommunications networks and optical computing, as well as new light sources.
The historical limit has been fibers with just a few hundred nanometers in diameter - any smaller than this, and light begins to spread out again.
The Adelaide researchers have discovered they can now push beyond that limit by at least a factor of two.
They've done it thanks to to new breakthroughs in the theoretical understanding of how light behaves at the nanoscale, and to the use of a new generation of nanoscale optical fibers being developed at the university's Institute for Photonics & Advanced Sensing (IPAS).
"By being able to use our optical fibers as sensors – rather than just using them as pipes to transmit light – we can develop tools that, for example, could easily detect the presence of a flu virus at an airport; could help IVF (in vitro fertilization) specialists to determine which egg should be chosen for fertilization; could gauge the safety of drinking water; or could alert maintenance crews to corrosion occurring in the structure of an aircraft," says Professor Tanya Monro, Federation Fellow at the University of Adelaide and Director of IPAS.
Meanwhile, another IPAS researcher, Dr Yinlan Ruan, has recently created what is thought to be the world's smallest hole inside an optical fiber – just 25 nanometers in diameter.