LEIDEN, Netherlands, June 3 (UPI) -- Researchers in the Netherlands are studying surface plasmons in search of a fiber-optic breakthrough to pave the way for faster Internet technologies.
Most of the main drags that make up the Internet's information superhighway are fiber-optic cables. The network is littered with speed bumps. Flashes of information-carrying light must be converted to electrical signals and travel across metal wires when moving through devices like routers.
Surface plasmons are light signals that travel across metal wires. They're called so because they travel both across and just under the surface of metal wires. Researchers believe download speeds could be boosted if routers and other electric devices could be designed to utilize surface plasmons.
But for that to happen, researchers need to better understand how light particles interact with metal wires. In an effort to do that, a team of physicists at Leiden University recently sent pulses of light across a metal sheet filled with tiny holes.
The free electrons in the metal keep the photons at the surface, while the holes trap the light particles in place. A light particle that attempts to escape the surface is bounced back by one of the holes.
Researchers trained their sensors on the action, waiting for photons to bounce off a hole and briefly away from the metal's surface.
"We see that we can learn a lot," Vasco Tenner, a PhD student at Leiden, said in a news release. "We already have improved the theory a little."
Researchers published their initial research into the nature of surface plasmons this week in the journal ACS Photonics.
If scientists can render surface plasmons predictable, they may be able to harness their power not just for a faster Internet, but for improved cancer diagnostic instruments and better financial security technologies.