Tapping on hidden visual information: an all-in-one detector for thousands of colors: a new chip puts photonic information at your fingertips.

Spectrometers are widely used in industry and research to detect and analyze light. Spectrometers measure the spectrum of light – its strength at different wavelengths, like the colors in a rainbow – and are an essential tool for identifying and analyzing specimens and materials. Integrated on-chip spectrometers would be of great use for a variety of technologies, including quality inspection platforms, security sensors, biomedical analyzers, healthcare systems, environmental monitoring instruments and space telescopes.

An international research team led by researchers from Aalto University has developed high-sensitivity spectrometers with high wavelength accuracy, high spectral resolution and wide operating bandwidth, using only a single detector the size of a microchip. The research behind this new ultra-miniaturized spectrometer is published today in the journal Science

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‘Our single-detector spectrometer is an all-in-one device. We designed this optoelectronic lab-on-a-chip with artificial intelligence to replace conventional hardware, such as optical and mechanical components. Therefore, our computational spectrometer does not require separate bulky components or array designs to diffuse and filter light. It can achieve high resolution comparable to benchtop systems, but in a much smaller package,” says postdoctoral researcher Hoon Hahn Yoon.

‘With our spectrometer, we can measure the light intensity at any wavelength outside the visible spectrum with a device at our fingertips. The device is fully electrically controllable and thus has enormous potential for scalability and integration. Integrating it directly into wearable devices such as smartphones and drones could advance our daily lives. Imagine if the next generation of our smartphone cameras could be equipped with hyperspectral cameras that outperform color cameras,” he adds.

Shrinking computer spectrometers are essential for their use in chips and implantable applications. Professor Zhipei Sun, the head of the research team, says: ‘Conventional spectrometers are bulky because they require optical and mechanical components, so their on-chip applications are limited. There is an emerging demand in this area to improve the performance and usability of spectrometers. From this point of view, miniaturized spectrometers are very important to provide high performance and new functions in all fields of science and industry.”

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Professor Pertti Hakonen adds: ‘Finland and Aalto have invested in photonics research in recent years. For example, there has been strong support from the Finnish Knowledge Center for Quantum Technology, Flagship for Photonics Research and Innovation, InstituteQ and the Otanano Infrastructure. Our new spectrometer is a clear demonstration of the success of these joint efforts. I believe that with further improvements in resolution and efficiency, these spectrometers could provide new tools for processing quantum information.”

In addition to postdoctoral researcher Hoon Hahn Yoon and professors Zhipei Sun and Pertti Hakonen, key Aalto members linked to the work were postdoctoral researchers Henry A. Fernandez and Faisal Ahmed, doctoral researchers Fedor Nigmatulin, Xiaoqi Cui, Md Gius Uddin and Professor Harri. Lipsans. Professor Ethan D. Minot, of Oregon State University, was a visiting scholar at Aalto University for a year. The international research team led by Aalto University also included professors Weiwei Cai (Shanghai Jiao Tong University), Zongyin Yang (Zhejiang University), Hanxiao Cui (Sichuan University), Kwanpyo Kim (Yonsei University) and Tawfique Hasan (University of Cambridge).

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materials supplied by University of Aalto. Note: Content is editable for style and length.

Jacky

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