Laser inscribed photon guides to improve telescopes' scope

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Optical circuits manufactured by ultrashort laser pulses can guide photons and make telescopes far more efficient at the light collection they need to image the universe.

Called photonic lanterns, the circuits are laser inscribed tracks on a substrate material which act as guides for photons. Dr Robert Thomson, an expert in ultrafast laser inscription from the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences (IPaQS) at Heriot-Watt University, developed the technology. He hopes it will be used in future telescopes. However, the technology has already been commercialised for data communications by Optoscribe, a spin-out company from Heriot-Watt, co-founded by Thomson.

‘Compared to the traditional optics used in telescopes, such as mirrors and lenses, photonic technologies have the potential to be more efficient and reduce costs,’ said Thomson. ‘With just one night on a world-leading telescope costing tens of thousands of pounds, it is essential that the instruments on the telescope deliver the maximum scientific output. This is where astrophotonics may have the edge over conventional optical technologies.’

Thomson’s research is funded by the European Union and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Thomson is an STFC advanced fellow and reader in physics at Heriot-Watt.