Earth and Space

Black holes’ contribution to Wi-Fi

Stories from Physics for 11-14 14-16 IOP RESOURCES

Though it might be felt that research into black holes is esoteric and brings few benefits to society, one significant tool has already been developed from their study. In the 1990s, John O’Sullivan was working with a team of researchers to detect radio signals from the mini black holes predicted by Stephen Hawking.

To remove noise from pulses emitted from disturbed particles in the interstellar medium, the team developed an approach to signal analysis using a fast Fourier transform (an algorithm that changes the form of a signal). O’Sullivan realised the idea could be applied to the problem of communication between computers. Radio wave communication between computers was, at the time, difficult to achieve as waves reflected from nearby surfaces interfered with data transmission. His team realised that if data were sent over multiple frequencies and recombined by a fast Fourier transform, interference could be reduced. O’Sullivan’s work is used in current Wi-Fi systems.

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