Research Highlights

Smaller, faster routers and processors

Published online 4 March 2017

Scientists have managed to manipulate wave propagation through liquid crystals with potential for improving communication systems.

Biplab Das

A team of physicists has developed a new way to control the paths of light beams trapped in liquid crystals using laser beams and external magnetic fields1

This magneto-optical control will aid in developing efficient and robust signal processing methods for optical communication systems. 

“Our method can replace some important elements in the optical communication systems such as routers, switchers, optical resonators and other devices, making them smaller, cheaper, faster and more flexible,” says physicist Vladlen Shvedov of the Australian National University, Australia.

Shvedov and his colleagues from Australia, Qatar and Italy explain that their method involved placing liquid crystals between two optical glass slides, then exposing this to a coherent laser beam and a magnetic field. This generated self-confined light beams inside the liquid crystals and reoriented the molecules of the crystals. 

Images captured by optical microscopes showed that the light beams propagated through the crystals by forming solitary waves which depended on the angular direction of the magnetic field and the power of the incident light beam. 

Laser beams with powers from a few to tens of milliwatts could generate solitary waves propagating over millimeter distances in the liquid crystals. Their movement also depends on the direction of the magnetic field. 

This magneto-optical stimulation of liquid crystals is rapid and flexible, and can precisely and quickly redirect optical information, maximizing data transmission rates, the researchers say. 


  1. Izdebskaya, Y. et al. Magnetic routing of light-induced waveguides. Nat. Commun. (2017).