Ultra Small Switches

A team of researchers at the University of St. Andrews, in the U.K., has developed one of the smallest optical switches ever made. This switch, measuring about one tenth the size of a human hair, may eventually be used in small consumer devices. This technology may enable providing homes and offices with an optical fiber connection that would allow high speed delivery of data such as music files, games, and videos.
The St. Andrews micro switch team (Credit: St. Andrews University) 
The St. Andrews micro switch team
(Credit: St. Andrews University)

In telecommunications, an optical switch is a switch that enables signals in optical fibers or integrated optical circuits to be selectively switched from one circuit to another. Professor Thomas Krauss, who led the research team at St. Andrews’ School of Physics and Astronomy, explained: “The switch is aimed at applications in telecommunications where we foresee its use in the routing of optical signals. The idea of using fiber in the home or office requires small optical circuits that operate with low power. When these can be mass-produced in a cost effective way it helps to keep the cost of the products down.” Currently, typical optical switches are several millimeters wide. The new ultra small switches developed by the scientists at St. Andrew’s University are considerably smaller, and are only several microns wide.  

 The new switch next to a human hair (Credit: St. Andrews University)
The new switch
next to a human hair
(Credit: St. Andrews University)

The St. Andrews research team used photonic crystal technology to reduce the optical switch’s size to only a few wavelengths of light. By using silicon as the material platform, the photonic devices can be mass-produced similarly to computer chips, and can also be integrated with electronic circuitry on the same chip. This new technology addresses the increasing need for optical components at all levels of the optical fiber communications network, which carries the ever-increasing flow of data over the Internet. 

In 2007, TFOT covered Intel’s Photonic Lab development of new Silicon-Germanium optical detectors, and Pennsylvania State University’s new invention for improved accuracy of optical fibers

More information on the University of St. Andrews’ ultra small switches can be found on the University’s official website.