In an advance that could shrink many measurement technologies, scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and partners have demonstrated the first miniaturized devices that can generate desired frequencies, or colors, of light precisely enough to be traced to an international measurement standard.
The researchers combined a pair of frequency combs, a tunable mini-laser, and electronics to create an optical frequency synthesizer. The advance transfers the capability to program optical frequencies from tabletop-scale instruments to three silicon chips, while retaining high accuracy and precision.
Just as radio and microwave chips powered the electronics revolution, the miniaturization of optical frequency synthesizers to make them portable and suited to high-volume fabrication should boost fields such as timekeeping, communications, trace gas monitoring and astronomy.
“This is the first breakthrough to show you can do this. Until now, no one’s ever used a chip-scale frequency comb to do metrology that’s fully traceable to an international standard.”
The prototype synthesizer is described in the journal Nature, in a paper(link is external) posted online April 25. Frequency combs are a Nobel-honored technology developed at NIST that are crucial to the latest experimental atomic clocks.
“Nobody knew how to make an optical frequency synthesizer using little chips,” NIST co-author Scott Papp said. “This is the first breakthrough to show you can do this. Until now, no one’s ever used a chip-scale frequency comb to do metrology that’s fully traceable to an international standard.”
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