Waves are more than what you see on your summer vacation to the beach. Many aspects of our lives are made possible due to a different kind of wave: electromagnetic waves, also called electromagnetic radiation.

We view the world through visible light wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum, ranging from 400 nanometers to 700 nanometers. Other segments of the spectrum — measured in meters based on the distance between the crests of oscillating waves — serve different purposes. For example, some wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum smaller than visible light are used in X-rays. Other segments of wavelengths larger than visible light are used for radio and microwave ovens.

Advances in technology to make better use of the infrared radiation spectrum — or the electromagnetic waves that are just larger than visible light — hold the key to improving optical modulation, a process that uses light to transmit data through patterned pulses.

Yu Yao, an associate professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, and her research team at the ASU Center for Photonic Innovation have developed a graphene-metal hybrid material to achieve ultrafast optical modulation.

The work represents the world’s first demonstration of ultrafast optical modulation at mid-infrared wavelengths using the graphene-metal hybrid material. Results of the research, conducted with Fulton Schools graduate researchers Ali Basiri, Md Zubair Ebne Rafique, Jing Bai and Shinhyuk Choi, were recently published in Light: Science & Applications, a Nature journal.

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