Fiber Networks Designed from Butterfly Wings


Again, I am blown away by what come from the field of biomimetics (a big word for “the application of methods and systems found in nature to the study and design of engineering systems and modern technology”, thank you Wikipedia). The iridescent colors of a butterfly wing come from photonic crystals. The “lighted up look” of the wing is due to the fact that the light entering the crystal is changed to the color that you see, and bent as it leaves the crystal to travel back to your eye.

It is not reflected, but rather bent and conducted. Now the folks in the EU want to grow these 3D photonic crystals to use in telecommunications. It seems that all of the light traveling in the fabulous fiber optic networks on the planet have to be converted to electrical impulses at various spots, and then retransmitted, especially when you want to route them or split them up. The 3D photonic crystal would allow the telcos to maintain a virtually “photon continuous” network.

Cheaper, faster, small, less power required. I am reminded of a prediction that I made some years ago when Fujitsu, I believe, announced a single laser that could power 32 separate fiber paths (it used to be one laser, one path). I told a class that I was teaching that someday, the cost of a phone call would be measured in the tenths of a cent per minute or less, because of this. With 3D crystals, how much lower can the cost of a phone call go?

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