Optical networks project secures €1.4m SFI grant

Prof John Donegan
Prof John Donegan, Trinity College Dublin

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21 February 2017 | 0

A project looking at the capabilities of lasers in optical networks has been awarded a €1.46 million research grant through Science Foundation Ireland’s Principal Investigator scheme.

The project, spearheaded by Prof John Donegan from the School of Physics in Trinity College Dublin, could potentially lead to broadband speeds exceeding 100Mb/s.

Optical networks use light to transmit information and are a critical part of the world’s Internet infrastructure. These optical networks currently use about 1% of the world’s total electricity supply, but the growth rate is immense and projections suggest it could reach 5% by 2022.

For this reason, there is an urgent need to tackle the energy requirements of communications networks. Prof Donegan’s research will examine the individual semiconductor lasers that currently light up global optical networks and will attempt to develop lasers that can operate at a range of temperatures without changing wavelength – one of the main contributing factors to energy usage in optical networks.

“The world as we know it depends critically on the wired Internet for communications,” said Prof Donegan. “Each day, billions of e-mail and Web pages traverse the Net and there is a substantial cost in operating this network. A major impediment to growth in the future is the electrical power required to operate the Net. Our research will investigate a range of new laser structures that operate with much improved efficiency and I look forward to further testing our devices with industry.

“These lasers are quite efficient, but still require an in-built cooling system to keep the laser at a precise wavelength. Since hundreds of lasers operate on the network, they cannot be allowed to shift wavelength when they operate. The challenge therefore is to develop lasers that are ‘athermal’, i.e. operate at a range of temperatures but do not change wavelength. This is the research challenge that we will address with this funding.”

Prof Donegan is an investigator at the the materials science research centre Amber and Connect, the centre for future networks and communications.

This award, which will benefit both centres, will run until 2022 and will support a team of five researchers.

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