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Astrophotonics: The Next Wave in Astronomical Instrumentation

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Recent breakthroughs in astrophotonics—photonics applied to astronomical instrumentation—have opened the door to replace the large lenses, mirrors, and gratings of conventional astronomical spectrographs with optoelectronic components to reduce the mass and volume of these instruments by two to three orders of magnitude, shorten delivery times, lower the risk, and cut the cost proportionally. Photonic instruments are also more amenable to complex light manipulation and massive multiplexing, cheaper to mass produce, easier to control, much less susceptible to vibrations and flexures, and best of all, have higher throughput. In this talk, I will discuss the latest results from our effort to develop in-house photonic near-infrared (1.0 – 1.7 micron) spectrometers where the dispersing optics are replaced by miniature (~1 cubic-centimeter) arrayed waveguide gratings imprinted using buried silicon nitride (``nano-core’‘) technology, the leading solution for low-loss waveguides (throughput > 50%). We have also developed highly sophisticated photonic filters using complex waveguide Bragg gratings, produced on the same platform technology as the photonic spectrometers and equally small. These novel spectrometers and filters offer a wide range of possible astronomical applications, from spectroscopic studies of the distant universe to searches for biosignatures in the atmospheres of exoplanets.

This talk is part of the Institute of Astronomy Seminars series.

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