29 October 2013

In the year 2013 we live in a highly technical world where the information highway is at our fingertips; smart phones, tablets and wireless connections.

As a consumer we want more, this is evidenced in the lengthy queues outside Apple stores each time a new product is released, but as a consumer do we ever sit back, take stock and think about how this technology was arrived at, and what research was undertaken to enable the technology?

Researchers are the unsung heroes for many of the products we, as a society, can now barely live without.

One such researcher is Dr Jochen Schröder whose field of research is in optics innovation. He is a great success story and an example of someone who is providing enabling technology through his innovation.

Dr Schröder is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Sydney (School of Physics) and CUDOS, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems. He was also one of the inaugural recipients of an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA).

Recently he collaborated with Finisar—the world's largest supplier of optical communication components and subsystems—as part of an ARC Linkage grant to split light in extremely sophisticated ways.

To do this, Dr Schröder used a Programmable Optical Processor, the WaveShaper. The WaveShaper was developed by Finisar through enabling technology also produced by researchers from CUDOS under a previous ARC Linkage grant (namely Dr Michaël Roelens, now an employee of Finisar).

The most recent research has led to the development of a more sophisticated product, the WaveShape Fourier Processor, which has also been commercialised by Finisar.

Dr Schröder said it was a great thrill to see his innovation commercialised, in particular the different applications of that research.

“I come from telecommunications research but I imagine people will come up with very new applications for how they can actually use our research and its functionality.

“For example, the initial waveshaper, we never imagined it would be used for laser manufacturing.

“This is one of the great things about producing enabling technologies, people come up with things you never thought of that it can and will be used for.”

With the award of his DECRA (funding commencing in 2012), Dr Schröder is focussing on one chip pulse lasers which will make the devices produced more feasible and capable for more experimentation and prototypes.

“It is very much technology that enables industry and researchers to develop further functionality and further technology that people will eventually get their hands on.

“The devices we develop are for the people behind the scenes, so it makes their work better and easier, it enables them to do things that they couldn't do before.”

Dr Schröder enthusiastically talks about his research and his passion for his job is evident.

“The fun part about this work is that it’s very easy to do quite a lot of work across the spectrum from very fundamental science—where we’re actually looking at solutions for very specific problems—to very applied science where we are working with collaborators like Finisar.”

It’s this enthusiasm and his great success with Finisar that has seen Dr Schröder win the CUDOS Innovation Prize, which celebrates Australian innovations in optics and photonics.

"It's great to see the techniques I developed have a real impact in industry," said Dr Schröder.

"The new technology is particularly useful for researchers and developers of optical communication systems. It enables more thorough system testing as well as reduced development time for optical components and systems."

And it is onward and upward for Dr Schröder, now with a third Linkage grant he will team with a post-doctoral researcher and extend&the dimensionality of his research. Research to date has largely been focussed on wavelengths and colours of light and then multiple input of fibres.

Dr Schröder is now looking inside the fibres, where there are different modes and different fundamental waves that travel along the fibres.

“What we are doing now is essentially extending ou capability, beyond controlling and splitting the different parts of the light spectrum, to something akin to imaging through a fibre—similar to looking through a microscope.

“If you think, for example, of the National Broadband Network, which is essentially fibres connected to your home, this is like the driveway leading to your home or garage, this leads into larger roads—but all in fibres and optics—which then leads to even larger roads. All of these roads come together to form the highways which connect cities.

“What we’re doing and what this research enables people to do is to use the highway to direct the traffic in the most efficient way and to fit as many cars as possible on that highway.”

For more information about Dr Schröder’s research please contact the ARC Centre  of Excellence for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems.


Image courtsey: Yvan Paquot. Dr Michaël Roelens (Finisar) and Dr. Jochen Schröder (University of Sydney) working with the WaveShaper in the CUDOS Tbit/s laboratory at the University of Sydney.