Researchers pack massive amounts of data into a stream of light

If you’re hungry for a little holographic data storage and transfer this morning have I got a flapjack for you. Researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg have packed 100 times more data into a light stream by using a pair of holographic Spatial Light Modulators to encode and decode transmissions.


Their paper, which has been published in Nature, details a process involving an Argon Ion laser and a small holographic screen. The laser paints patterns onto a Spatial Light Modulator with is picked up by another Spatial Light Modulator and then sent to a camera. The resulting patterns can encode massive amounts of data very quickly.

Obviously this is some very esoteric technology but what’s important to realize what they are doing. By etching different patterns – up to one hundred – they are able to encode all sorts of information into a single light beam. The current state of the art usually sends a simple on/off signal. This sends things that are far more complex.

In this latest work, the team showed data transmission with over 100 patterns of light, exploiting three degrees of freedom in the process.

They used digital holograms written to a small liquid crystal display (LCD) and showed that it is possible to have a hologram encoded with over 100 patterns in multiple colours.

“This is the highest number of patterns created and detected on such a device to date, far exceeding the previous state-of-the-art,” says Forbes.

Will we be shooting lasers at each other in the future? Probably not, but with a little engineering you could add this sort of fast connectivity future devices allowing for speed-of-light data transfer at some amazingly high bandwidths.