Integrated supercontinuum lasers
There isn’t a magic spell that solves all world problems. But Superlight Photonics’ innovation comes surprisingly close. Haider Zia, researcher in integrated and nonlinear optics and founder of UT spin-off Superlight Photonics tells all about how his integrated photonics solution can change the world.
Lasers are not just commonplace in Hollywood anymore. They will increasingly get a place in our day to day lives. But how? Haider Zia, a UT researcher born in Pakistan and raised in Canada had a eureka-moment with the answer. Haider: “Colors in light can carry a lot of information. I wanted to convert lasers into a broadband spectrum of colors, like a rainbow, to increase the usefulness of the laser. That’s what we call a supercontinuum. However, there were some pitfalls. It could be done in a chip, but then you’d need a whole table of optical components to make it work, and you’d have just one dominant color. With our solution, we’re able to lower the energy requirements by factors of thousands. The spectrum of light becomes flat, so there’s no dominant color anymore and the pulses that come out are narrow in time. Our tech enables that the power efficiency is increased and everything can be done on a chip – without the table-full setup.”
Plethora of applications
An interesting technology with many applications. Because although the technology may sound complicated to some, almost everyone will benefit from its impact. Haider enthusiastically lists all the possibilities: “It can be used in so many ways! Think of an optical coherence tomography imager: the huge machine the optician uses when they point a laser at your eye to create a 3D image of it. With our technology, the same could be done with a handheld device. Think of the possibilities of that. You could image skin to detect skin cancer. Doctors who work on sight can do more examinations without a lab. But also, outside the medical field there is a plethora of applications: technicians can detect micron cracks in oil pipes. Dangerous gasses could be detected. It can be used for Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) in smart cars. Data Centers could be sized down and become more energy efficient. This technology can solve all those issues.”
If this idea holds so much potential, why hasn’t anyone else thought about turning it into a business? “I didn’t realize it was a great idea at first,” says Haider. “I was sitting in the train, being bored, thinking about stuff. Then suddenly, this idea came to mind. It wasn’t until I shared it with my colleagues that I realized all the applications. When my supervisor and I talked to Novel-T and they coined the idea of patenting it, that’s when I knew it was a great idea to market. Furthermore, being in a place where there’s lots of demand for this technology is exciting. Imagine having access to an optics laboratory in the palm of your hand. There are lots of applications – it’s just a matter of developing them.”
That’s exactly the reason why Superlight Photonics is now a business. “I want the world to know about this technique. We want to market the basic source and from there we want to build up to have more portable devices. For now, we want to target the established laser market, but eventually we want to establish our brand in different markets and provide high quality research in this field. I’m so thankful to have all the opportunities of Novel-T and the entrepreneurial university on this journey. So far, they really supported me because they truly believe in entrepreneurship. For researchers who’re considering marketing their research: just go for it. The resources are there, so there is no excuse to make a change!”