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Making micro-optics in one step

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DOUGLAS FARMER, SENIOR EDITORWhereas traditionally the manufacture of optical components was carried out through a laborious — and often inefficient — milling technique, modern 3D-printing methods have boosted the speed and flexibility of the process. By adding layers of cured resin until a shape is complete, developers are able to start small and build up to the design they need, as opposed to cutting away from larger blocks, resulting in mostly wasted material. Digital technology is enabling this production on demand, with no minimum order necessary.

Thanks to modern methods, producers of optical components have at their disposal processes such as two-photon polymerization, which can produce smooth micro- optics in one fabrication step, and two-photon grayscale lithography, wherein 3D printing allows for the simultaneous production of components with multiple diffractive properties. A hybrid approach that combines 3D printing with casting can also result in efficient generation of custom components.

In our cover story of this edition of EuroPhotonics, Marco de Visser points out that these fundamental changes in the construction of optical components have benefited the automotive, aerospace, and medical industries, to name a few. And direct laser writing technology now allows for the swift adjustment of specifications while not sacrificing the precision that these industries demand. Find out what the future may hold in this area here.

Elsewhere, Kevin Kruse writes that the integration of laser-based sensing into mobile phones has provided the impetus for the use of VCSELs in innovative and powerful ways. VCSELs with multiple junctions exhibit increased efficiency and require less power for demanding and high-speed applications such as augmented and virtual reality and lidar. With the production of flip-chip VCSELs on which optical components can be mounted, the space and size requirements are further reduced. Read more about the possibilities here.

In the news section, we report on a team of researchers from Germany that used two lasers to enable the ultrasound examination of nanomaterial properties. By using a pulsed laser to create oscillations in porous silicon, along with a Michelson interferometer powered by an Nd:YAG laser to detect the waves, the researchers were able to analyze specific properties of the material without altering it. Prior methods required the use of a liquid coupling agent and direct contact with the material, which often changed the properties of the material or resulted in false readings. Learn more about recent research and discovery here.

Finally, in “EPIC Insights,” Ana González writes that, as photonic integrated circuits (PICs) have been made smaller, the technological landscape of how they can be used in data centers, 5G, and quantum computing has grown larger. Developers across Europe are engaged in techniques such as fabrication on silicon nitride and indium phosphide, which can generate a component with greater efficiency while producing less heat during use — an incredibly important advantage, considering the use of PICs to enable the constant flow of communications in high-speed data centers. Gain insight into the accomplishments in this area so far here.

Enjoy the issue!

Autumn 2021

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