In DepthOptics

Breaking the light barrier

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Science  26 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6242, pp. 1409-1410
DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6242.1409

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Soaring traffic on global fiber optic networks could reduce the Internet to gridlock within a couple of years. But new work reported this week in Science could push that "capacity crunch" back several years. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, targeted fluctuations in the wavelength of the lasers that generate data-carrying light pulses. Those tiny changes create "noise" that builds up with distance, limiting the range of optical signals. Because the noise is random, it's usually impossible to filter out. But the scientists discovered an optical trick that converts it into a form that's easier to separate from the main signal. As a result, they say, light pulses can either carry twice as much data or travel twice as far before needing to be amplified.