Engineers from Penn State University have devised a better way to control light using a photonic integrated chip. The new design will allow researchers to control light without having to rely on bulky materials and structures that are difficult to integrate. This photonic integrated chip has the potential to be extremely useful in many applications throughout the optical industry.

In the past, scientists could control light in one of two ways: a photonic integrated circuit or a newly discovered metasurface. The photonic integrated circuit, while able to be used with small chips, suffered from a limited ability when it came to controlling free-space light. Meanwhile, the metasurface allows for light manipulation at the subwavelength scale but lacks the ability to be integrated with a chip.

The solution, as it were, was to take the best of both worlds and create a hybrid photonic architecture that incorporates the metasurfaces onto a PIC chip without sacrificing high light controllability.

“This incorporation of the PICs and metasurfaces makes it possible to drive the metasurfaces using guided waves inside the PICs. It enables routing light among different metasurfaces, performing multiple complex functions on a single chip.”

Xingjie Ni, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Penn State University

The team believes this new chip could have a vast plethora of applications, including in optical communications, optical remote sensing, and virtual and augmented reality displays, to name a few. Most importantly, however, the engineers believe this could lead to great innovations in combining metasurfaces and integrated photonics in unexpected new ways.

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