Latest technology in electronics - Photonic Sensors

Published Thursday 20th September, 2018

We're always excited to keep you up to date with the latest technology in electronics, and one of the most interesting - and potentially life-changing - innovations we're currently exploring is photonic sensors.

Science is only ever as good as the information it can gather, and any technology that improves the quality and quantity of data available allows us to improve all areas of life, so let’s take a look at why we’re so interested in the latest developments in photonic sensors.

What are photonic sensors?

Webster's Dictionary defines photonics as "The branch of physics that deals with photons and their applications in telecommunication, data processing, etc.", which means that photonic sensors use light rather than electricity to transmit data – and are, therefore, capable of recording enormous amounts of information with increased accuracy.

If this was the only advantage they'd still be a huge innovation, but photonic sensors manage to do this while also having a tiny footprint and being immune to the huge amount of electromagnetic interference that we find in the natural and manmade world.

For example, a traditional sensor system can be compromised by local radio waves, electric power lines, a lightning storm and even something like a low-flying airplane, which means that either they have to be made less sensitive or the limitations are begrudgingly accepted. Photonic sensors exhibit none of these restrictions - which is clearly of huge benefit.

What are the applications for photonic sensors?

Innovation, of course, is great news, but unless the latest technology in electronics is applied to real-world problems, it's not really making the world a better place. Fortunately, photonic sensor tech has been taken up in many fields, as the obvious advantages become more widely recognised.

A great example of this is one of the most recent applications, which has been introduced by Professor Lan Yang of Washington University in St. Louis, who created a sensor known as a 'whispering gallery mode resonator'.

Her team used this to record real-time air temperature changes over a 12-hour period and, via a drone, map temperature distribution in a local park. When compared to an accompanying Bluetooth-enabled commercial thermometer, the results were encouraging - but that's not the most impressive thing…

The glass sensor in her resonator is the size of a human hair and connects to the tiny 127mm x 67mm mainboard by a single optical fibre. Light is propagated along the circular rim of a structure which rotates light over a million times within the circular rim - a process that allows that light to collect an enormous amount of information, such as environmental changes like temperature fluctuations and humidity.

Professor Yang hopes that this tech will improve data collection in harsh EMI environments, like busy and highly populated cities, and allow us to more accurately monitor crucial environmental changes.

Other current applications

Photonic sensors are also increasingly being used in medicine to produce more effective tools and techniques such as:

✔ Optofluidic techniques for single-cell analysis
✔ Optical coherence tomography which uses lightwaves to noninvasively take images of retinas
✔ Micro-based cytometry for cell analysis

And for security applications like:

✔ Photonic liquid-crystal fibre sensors for security monitoring
✔ Optic fibre sensors for detecting explosives

And this is just the beginning.

At Daletech we're glad to be at the forefront of innovation and remain committed to bringing you any exciting movements in the industry and examples of the latest technology in electronics - so we'll report any further advancements in the field of photonic sensors.

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