Enlarge / A phased-array antenna used for radio astronomy. (credit: NRAO)
In my younger days—about the time that Erik 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.
Read 17 remaining paragraphs

Leave a Reply