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Seeing the light

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Seeing the light

One of those proverbial “light bulb moments” has won a University of Otago physicist an international contest.

Dr Harald Schwefel has taken out the inaugural Bright Ideas Competition, sponsored by the Optical Society of America Foundation and the international laser manufacturer, Quantel Laser.

Schwefel explains that his bright idea relates to tightly correlated photons, which are tiny quantum particles that make up light. He says that the idea is to use a high-powered, single-frequency, fibre laser to generate what are called “photon triplets”.

“We want to make it possible in the laboratory to generate these photon triplets, which are a completely new quantum optical state of light and which has, so far, not been achieved.”

Schwefel says that the research has the potential to enable the building of revolutionary quantum computers and to provide fundamentally secure communication channels.

Schwefel was one of four finalists – selected from 80 entrants from 23 countries – who pitched their bright ideas at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics in San Jose in California. The other three finalists were from the United States.

Schwefel says that he is putting the US$30,000 prize towards a custom-built laser that will further the research, in association with PhD student Luke Trainor. He says that the laser will also be useful for other research projects within the Otago-directed Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies, a New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence.

“I think the award is great,” Schwefel says, “and puts the spotlight on Otago and the great science that is possible here.”

Photo: Graham Warman