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Researchers Land $400,049 NSF Grant to Create Photon Funnels

The National Science Foundation has awarded a UCF-led team $400,049 to develop new devices for concentrating and controlling light called “photon funnels.”

Concentrating light is used in a variety of electronics and machines people have come to depend on, from computers and cell phones to fiber optics and sensors that detect toxic spills. These devices all use conventional lenses to concentrate light, but there is a catch.

The lenses collect and concentrate light on a specific spot, but that spot moves as light rays strike from different angles or positions.

“As a result, sensors and detectors can lose energy as the source of light moves, and the efficiency of an optical device is often limited,” said Stephen Kuebler [1], associate professor of chemistry and optics, who leads the research project. “Our team will explore a fundamentally new approach for concentrating light called ‘photon funnels,’ that circumvent the limitations that refraction puts on ordinary optical systems.  Photon funnels will be designed to leverage an optical phenomenon called ‘self-collimation’ to control how light propagates within an engineered lattice.”

Photon funnels are nanoscale three-dimensional (3D) lattices that are designed to direct the flow of light within them by adjusting the orientation of a self-collimating lattice as a function of position.  The lattices will be created using a laser-based 3D printing technique called “multiphoton lithography.”

The interdisciplinary team assembled for the project includes experts in chemistry, optics, physics, material science, engineering, and design and simulation in Orlando and at the University of Texas at El Paso. The research will provide cutting-edge training in Orlando and El Paso for undergraduate and graduate students who work on the three-year project.

Team members also include UCF Associate Professor of Optics and Photonics Sasan Fathpour [2] and Raymond Rumpf [3], associate professor of Electrical Engineering and Director of the EM Lab [3] at the University of Texas at El Paso. Rumpf is a pioneer in 3D printing of high-frequency circuits and electromagnetic devices.

The work will be evenly split between the professors’ laboratories in Orlando and El Paso.