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Latsis prize goes to developer of telecoms laser

Jérôme Faist earned the prize for work at Bell Laboratories. NSF

This year's prestigious Latsis prize has been awarded to physicist, Jérôme Faist, for developing a laser which can beam huge amounts of data into people's homes.

The technology is expected to bring video phones and movies over the Internet a step closer to reality.

The prize, which comes with a cheque of SFr100,000 ($67,200), is awarded by Switzerland’s National Science Foundation, and is aimed at encouraging young researchers.

The Foundation chose Faist, 40, for his work in developing a “quantum cascade laser”, which beams data to receivers on rooftops.

“It’s a great honour,” Faist told swissinfo. “I’m very grateful to the committee who judged this work to be worthy of the Latsis prize.”

Until now, most Internet users have been unable to benefit from high-speed access because of the so-called “last mile” problem, but the laser is expected to change that, removing the need to dig up city streets to lay fibre-optic cables.

“Digging holes takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money so one alternative is to connect you through one of these so-called free-space optic links.

“This means having a laser beam at your home or business…that can transmit data directly across the air,” Faist explained.

Beating the weather

This system does not function well in bad weather because rain, snow and fog in particular distort the signal by scattering the light beam.

Faist’s laser, by contrast, is far less affected by precipitation because it has a much shorter wavelength than infrared, so moisture particles do not scatter the beam.

“The big advantage of the cascade laser is that it will emit at a frequency that can penetrate the fog much more easily and makes a connection much more effective,” Feist said.

The prize will be handed over at a ceremony in Bern in January.

Faist, a professor at the University of Neuchatel, developed the laser while working with Bell Laboratories in the United States.

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