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UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering rewards photonics innovators

25 Jul 2014

New Research Fellowships recognise high-capacity fiber breakthrough and bloodflow imaging method.

The UK's Royal Academy of Engineering has today announced the awarding of seven Research Fellowships to UK scientists whose work demonstrates “the potential to bring radical innovation to their fields”. The awards for each recipient consist of £100,000 funding per year over a five-year period as well as project mentoring from experienced Academy Fellows.

Among the various disciplines are two photonics-related projects, which are, respectively, using light’s orbital angular momentum to boost the capacity of optical fibers, and using magnetic resonance imaging to produce non-invasively maps of bloodflow in arteries and brain tissues. Each of the seven research projects addresses unresolved or critical issues in a specific engineering field and has the potential to lead to significant breakthroughs, benefiting both the research community and industry.

Professor Ric Parker CBE FREng, Director of Research & Technology, Rolls-Royce Group, and Chair of the Academy's Research and Secondments Committee, said, “Innovation is crucial to keep the UK ahead of its competitors and it is thanks to the work of outstanding researchers such as the recipients of this year’s Research Fellowships that the country can develop and maintain a technological advantage.”

He added, “As part of the Engineering for Growth campaign, the Academy is committed to showing the key role engineering plays in creating industrial and economic growth for the benefit of society as a whole.”

Boosting fiber data transmission: Martin Lavery, University of Glasgow

Optical fibers do not have unlimited capacity, and given the continuous increase in data traffic, they are fast approaching their fundamental limits. This is caused by the limited width of these fibers, where, much like water in a pipe, an increase in the width will result in greater throughput. However, such an increase in width presents a set of key technical challenges to recover the data transmitted along this larger optical fiber.

A little-known property of light could be the key to bypassing these limitations and developing a higher capacity system. Dr Lavery is planning to use light’s orbital angular momentum, a property that can assume discrete, measurable values, to develop high capacity, secure communication networks. These values could form a new ‘alphabet’ allowing transmission of far more information than is possible today.

Lavery’s research will develop the technology needed to turn light into an OAM alphabet and will focus on transmitting and receiving these signals both via open space (such as building to building data transmission) and via optical fiber.

Enhanced technique

He told optics.org, "This fellowship will support a mutli-year plan to investigate the scientific hurdles, and develop a tool kit for the potential implementation of a high-dimensional encoding system in both free-space and fiber-based communications. A key focus will be the use of OAM, along with other optical properties, as an alphabet for encoding. There is not one single challenge facing the implementation of this optical property.

"Over the course of the fellowship, we will develop new and enhanced techniques for the generation and detection of OAM. I will be working towards understanding and mitigating the effects, such as crosstalk, that arise over turbulent free-space and fiber transmission links. We are hoping to achieve an understanding of these affects, and to develop encoding and decoding tools that will lead to a demonstration system"

Novel imaging technique visualizes blood flow in the brain: Thomas Okell, University of Oxford

Non-invasive imaging techniques that show the blood flow to the brain are valuable tools, enabling doctors to make accurate diagnoses and plan interventions. Ideally, to reduce risks to the patient to an absolute minimum, these imaging techniques should use the least possible amount of ionising radiation or contrast agents.

Arterial spin labeling is a type of magnetic resonance imaging that fulfils these requirements and can be used to produce detailed maps of the brain tissues infused by blood, and also to perform angiography, which shows the flow of blood within arteries.

Current methods that use this technique for detailed angiography are time-consuming and perfusion information must be obtained in a separate scan. With constraints on clinical scan times it is often not possible to perform both perfusion imaging and angiography in the same session, leaving the specialist with incomplete information.

Dr Thomas Okell is working to resolve this issue and to allow both measurements to be performed simultaneously. Treating angiography and perfusion not as separate techniques but as different windows on a continuous process, Dr Okell will develop the way the measurements are performed and recorded to simultaneously produce detailed results for both perfusion and angiography in a fraction of the time normally required.

He told optics.org, “It’s a great honor to receive this Fellowship, and it’s fundamental to progressing my work. Ultimately, my aim is to develop the technique for clinical benefits. It’s advantageous because it doesn’t require an invasive procedure or contrast chemicals, nor expensive equipment. I am hope to make the method relatively rapid.”

About the Author

Matthew Peach is a contributing editor tooptics.org.

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