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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/X03772X/1
Title: Picometre Surface Nanoscale Axial Photonics (PicoSNAP)
Principal Investigator: Sumetsky, Professor M
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Arden Photonics Interfiber Analysis, LLC National Physical Laboratory NPL
OFS Thales Ltd
Department: College of Engineering and Physical Sci
Organisation: Aston University
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 July 2024 Ends: 30 June 2028 Value (£): 1,167,290
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Electronic Devices & Subsys. Manufacturing Machine & Plant
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
04 Oct 2023 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 4 and 5 October 2023 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Atoms are the building blocks of all materials. Therefore, the common sense suggests that microscopic devices cannot be fabricated with the precision better than an angstrom, the size of an atom. However, the performance of optical microdevices is usually determined by the average position of a very large number of atoms. The progress in measurement technologies allows this average to be determined with the ground-breaking picometre (one hundredth of the atomic size) precision.

It has recently been recognized that similar picometre precision may become a must for the fabrication of a range of emerging photonic microdevices promising to revolutionize computer, communication, and sensing technologies. However, the problem of robust and scalable fabrication of microdevices with such astonishing precision remains open since major modern manufacturing technologies have achieved a precision plateau of several nanometres (tens of angstroms).

SNAP (Surface Nanoscale Axial Photonics), a unique technology invented by the Principal Investigator of this project, allows the fabrication of miniature photonic devices at the surface of an optical fibre with unprecedented subangstrom precision. In contrast to the propagation of light in regular optical fibres, in SNAP devices, light is spiralling along the perimeter of the fibre and slowly propagating along its length. Recently, we demonstrated new SNAP fabrication methods and proposed unique microdevices for applications in communications, optical signal processing, and ultraprecise sensing.

However, the SNAP devices demonstrated to date have been the products of breakthrough experiments. To bring these devices to realistic applications and further increase their precision, it is necessary to develop a robust manufacturing process attaining both ultra-accurate reproducibility and scalability. The goal of this project is the development of this process, which requires the insight into the depth of associated physical phenomena, as well as the design and fabrication of new microdevices critical for the future communication, optical signal processing, microwave, and sensing technologies. We will (i) develop a technology for scalable manufacturing of microphotonic devices with unprecedented picometre-scale precision and (ii) demonstrate SNAP microdevices including miniature optical delay lines, dispersion compensators, frequency comb generators, microwave photonics filters, as well as optical microfluidic sensors and manipulators with outstanding performance for applications ranging from food industry to fundamental science. If successful, this project will not only bring in a new revolutionary technology but also deliver miniature optical devices with performance not previously possible to achieve and ready for practical applications.

We envision a high need for the miniature optical devices we plan to design and fabricate in this project in future applications in the information and communication technologies, precise manufacturing, microwave, and sensing technologies. Lack of reliable, scalable manufacturing processes with the required picometre precision remains a major obstacle for their mass manufacturing. SNAP devices, which we plan to fabricate in this project, have real potential to address this need due to their highest to date precision and exceptional performance. We anticipate that the developed robust, unprecedently precise, and scalable manufacturing process with the UK-owned IP, as well as miniature optical devices we plan to deliver, will have broad industrial, scientific, and social impact centred in the UK.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.aston.ac.uk