RTU Develops Nanophotonics, A New Research Area That Underpins Modern and Future Communication Technologies

6th of June
Toms Salgals, Associate Professor at RTU, at the Nanophotonics Laboratory's first scientific device - optical tweezers. Photo: Vitālijs Vinogradovs, RTU

With the establishment of the Nanophotonics Laboratory, a group of researchers from the Institute of Photonics, Electronics and Electronic Communications at the Faculty of Computer Science, Information Technology and Energy of Riga Technical University (RTU), led by Associate Professor Toms Salgals, has started research on nanophotonics and nanostructured optoelectronics.

«My research and that of my team is focused on nanophotonics and nanostructured optoelectronics. Nanophotonics is fundamental science, while optoelectronics is applied science with wide applications in both classical telecommunications and future quantum communication systems. By developing basic science, we are also finding new opportunities on the applied plane, which will then result in innovative products and services for society,» said T. Salgals.

Scientists at the new lab are studying the interaction of light and matter at the nanoscale to discover new optical effects for use in the development of innovative and efficient information transmission, processing and storage systems and components. T. Salgals explains how optical effects are studied, controlled and manipulated at the nanoscale: «We focus optical radiation through a lens on, for example, cotton wool particles, microspheres, we can also add other materials or substances and study light propagation, absorption, emission and other effects on the particles. We can also put particles on a silicon photonics chip, for example, and study how light propagation changes in an optical chip.» This research has promising applications, as T. Salgals says, «a fundamental basis for everything that goes on in these rooms, in the Fibre Optics Transmission Systems Laboratory - the efficient development and operation of high-speed communication, quantum, photonic microchip technologies».

The Nanophotonics Laboratory is equipped with the first piece of scientific equipment - optical tweezers - built by the researchers themselves from special components. It is located in an enclosed space to minimise the access of dust and other particles and is placed on a pneumatic table to limit the impact of vibrations on the research. The slightest vibration in the room has a significant impact on the researchers' work, as they work with very small - nanometre-sized - equipment.

The optical tweezers components and the external environmental mitigation equipment were purchased with the support of the RTU Science Support Fund.

It is planned that the laboratory equipment will be continuously expanded in order to research and develop the use of new types of materials - metamaterials - in telecommunications. Metamaterials are a class of materials whose properties are determined by their microstructure rather than their chemical composition.

The new laboratory head, T. Salgals, is on a fast track in science. His research to date has focused on fibre-optic communication networks and the research and development of technologies to provide high-speed broadband internet connections, data centre interconnections. He defended his PhD thesis in autumn 2022, received the «RTU Young Scientist of the Year 2023» award in autumn 2023 and founded a laboratory, starting a research direction unprecedented at the university. His team currently includes four young and future researchers, including a PhD student from abroad, who are both taking Salgals' knowledge and developing it abroad with leading players in science and industry.

«Nanophotonics is the backbone of everything we use in photonics today, but there are few experts in this field worldwide. We are already working with the biggest of them. The fact that their work is much needed is evidenced by highly cited publications in leading scientific journals in the field,» said the associate professor, who will travel to Australia this summer with colleagues to lay the foundations for collaboration with world-leading researchers from the Australian National University. In Australia, T. Salgals will also participate in the international Opto-Electronics and Communications Conference (OECC).

Microchip technology is one of RTU's scientific excellence initiatives with high added value for the economy. The interest of the global scientific and business community in RTU has been stimulated by the achievements of the Institute of Photonics, Electronics and Electronic Communications scientists in the development of silicon photonics chips, including several world records in data centre interconnect technologies.

The European Union (EU) Microchip Act requires the creation of a centre of excellence for semiconductors in each Member State, thus contributing to EU sovereignty and, to a large extent, self-sufficiency in the semiconductor market. RTU's strategic objective is not only to establish a centre of excellence for semiconductors, but to go a step further and set up a microchip design and testing laboratory under the wing of RTU. This would serve chip manufacturers, both global and local. The design and testing stage of the chip value chain currently accounts for the majority of turnover, and Latvia has unique advantages in this area compared to its nearest neighbours - competent specialists and prepared technologies.

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6th of June at 11:56

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