In my younger days—about the time that E the Red was making a name for himself—I was really into electronics. Countless never-quite-working-as-expected circuits should have taught me the futility of telling electrons what to do. Yet my interest in electronics peaked with the construction of an electronically steerable phased-array antenna. This is where, by varying the timing slightly, numerous small antennas create a signal that can be sent in specific directions without moving any hardware.
Yes, my set-up did actually work, though not as well as I’d hoped. Anyway, what excited me about phased-array antennas is that you could shape and steer an antenna’s radiation pattern by individually controlling the phase and amplitude of a string of individual emitters. It just seemed so cool. Later, when I moved on to optics, controlling the phases and amplitudes of individual lasers and combining them into a single, steerable laser beam… well, it was technically possible, but there was a vast gulf between our ideals and any practical implementation.
But recently, researchers have shown that phase control is possible in a device that is smaller than the wavelength of the light being controlled. Although a rather technical development, this is one key step along the road to high-capacity optical communications that don’t involve any fibers. Think mobile communications beyond 5G, or home Wi-Fi that actually doesn’t suck.
The full story is available below.