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Fiber-optic networks carry data as different-colored pulses of laser light. When adding data to an optical signal, it helps to be able to tune the transmitting laser to a color not in use. Two hitches, though: tunable lasers are expensive, and they aren’t widely offered commercially. SRI International in Menlo Park, CA, says it has devised a means of creating a tunable laser that should make the technology cheaper and more available.

Rather than build a device from scratch, SRI has found new ways to employ off-the-shelf components, says Pajo Vujkovic-Cvijin, lead scientist on the company’s Chameleon Project. For example, the SRI laser uses a minuscule heater-the width of a strand of hair-to tweak the wavelength of light by adjusting its temperature. SRI is keeping mum on most details surrounding the project until two patents receive approval, which should happen this fall. But the company is talking with 14 optical-networking equipment manufacturers about licensing possibilities.

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