A discovery involving a pair of light waves—one traveling clockwise, the other counterclockwise around a microscopic track—may lead to the world's smallest gyroscope, which would be a fraction of the width of a human hair.

A team of applied physicists aims to enable a new generation of compact gyroscope-based navigation systems by scaling this technology to a new level.

"We have found a new detection scheme that may lead to the world's smallest gyroscope," says Li Ge, a physicist at the Graduate Center and Staten Island College, City University of New York. "Though these so-called optical gyroscopes are not new, our approach is remarkable both in its super-small size and potential sensitivity."

Gyroscopes are key parts in several technologies like space probes, satellites and rockets, which rely on these systems for accurate flight control. This new gyroscope size could reduce the cost of equipment in space missions, and also be integrated into optical circuit boards.

Ge and his colleagues—physicist Hui Cao and her student Raktim Sarma, both at Yale University—recently published their results in The Optical Society's (OSA) journal Optica.

Compared to mechanical gyroscopes, optical gyroscopes have no moving parts. Instead, dual light waves race around an optical cavity of fiber, constantly passing each other traveling on opposite paths.

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