9/8/21 – When you think of data transmission, your first thought might be of optical fiber, but a team of Chinese researchers thinks there may be an even better medium: ice.
In the journal Science, researchers Peizhen Xu of Zhejiang University and colleagues discussed how they have studied the use of ice to transmit light. They want to transition ice from a normal state to Ice II, which is a highly ordered rhombohedral crystalline structure. The key is the creation of ice “hairs” can be created that have high optical quality because they are extraordinarily clear and can allow efficient light transmission. The nearly perfect ice hairs are devoid of imperfections, like cracks, that cause ice to break.
The researchers used a needle with an electrical charge to attract water vapor and freeze it. At cryotemperatures between –70° and –150°C, strands of single-crystal ice microfibers (IMFs) ranging from 10 micrometers to less than 800 nanometers could bend or curve up to 11% and then spring back to their original shape. They can transmit whispering-gallery light waves, which are able to travel around a concave surface. Those waves can be used in evaluating material properties, such as viruses from infected samples; lasers; cooling; sensing; and astronomy.
Theoretically, using ice as a transmission mode can provide low-loss optical waveguiding, which guides light on integrated circuits for optical communication. And yes, if it pans out, it could be an alternative to optical fiber made from glass. So, ice could someday be the “next-gen” for industry, but for now one can still appreciate it for how well it sits in a gin and tonic.