What We Do With Advanced Photonics

Hello, my name is Loucas Tsakakakos and I am the Manger of the Photonics Laboratory at GE Global Research in Niskayuna, New York. The Photonics Lab is focused on developing novel devices, components, and sub-systems for controlling and using light, or more broadly electromagnetic radiation.

A key theme of the lab is the use of micro and nano structures as a means of achieving these technologies. For those not familiar with the science of light, a photon is the fundamental particle of light. Indeed, light has both a dual wave and particle nature, and one can think of a photon as a wave packet that has zero mass but can still provide momentum. You may have seen a device known as a Crooke’s radiometer that is a vacuum sealed bulb containing small black/white pads on a rotor. When one shines light on the pads the rotor starts to move and stops when the light is removed. This is related to the momentum transfer that the photons in the light beam provide to the pads (in reality it is also related to differential heat generation on the pads). Photonics is the field of engineering and science that uses light for many important applications.

If you are wondering what photonics are used for, note that without light we would only not have life (think photosynthesis, etc.), but also many of the technologies we use today would not be possible. Consider that, for example, photons are critical to the manufacturing of all electronic chips used in cell phones, televisions, etc. via a process called photolithography. Also, all displays used in computers and phones use light sources and photonic structures to enable high brightness and compact products. Futhermore, in the tele-communications industry, fiber optics have been used as the primary means of moving data at high rates and over large distances, sometimes directly on the sea floor. To this extent, the GE Photonics Lab is interested in three major application spaces:

a) Photonic Communications – use of light to move data for GE products
b) Photonic Sensing – development of sensor sub-systems and products for GE
c) Advanced Photonics – development of novel (nano)photonic structures for GE systems

There are several representative structures that form the core of the technologies we develop. These include the use of photonic fibers, as well as the use of on-chip or integrated photonic elements built in silicon or other substrate materials. We also are interested in the development of micro/nano-enabled photon sources and optical elements for both generating and steering light all the way from the high energy X-ray regime through to the low energy THz portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. In addition to these core structures, we also typically build sub-systems around them and demonstrate the technology to the level required by the application.

Indeed, within the Photonics Lab we deal with basic science and engineering principles, at Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) of 1-3, and also take technologies towards new products at TRLs 4-6 (see this web site for a description of TRLs). Beyond that we often work with our colleagues in the GE businesses to help them transition to products.

Going forward, you will see blog posts on Edisonsdesk.com from various scientists and engineers in the GE Global Research Photonics Lab describing some of our exciting technology developments in more detail. We are interested in connecting with various scientist and engineers around the country and world working in photonics or adjacent technologies for possible collaboration, various photonics professional societies such as SPIE and OSA to help foster continued growth in the science/engineering of light, as well as with various potential customers of the technologies we are developing or looking to develop in the future. We hope you will enjoy learning more about our technologies and will ask us any questions; we’ll look to get back to you as soon as possible.

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