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New nanoscale device shines light on future of optical technologies

Tue 24 Mar 2015

Researchers from the University of Central Florida and the University of Texas El Paso have designed a new technique for manipulating light which they hope will help to further develop the next generation of supercomputers.

The new method uses a tiny honeycomb-shaped device, created through a direct laser writing process, which is able to direct light beams around turns that are twice as tight as ever before possible, while still maintaining the beam’s original intensity.

“Computer chips and circuit boards have metal wire connections within them that transport data signals. One of challenges when using light is figuring out a way to make tight bends so we can replace the metal wiring more effectively,” said lead researcher Raymond Rumpf of University of Texas El Paso.

Scientists are eager to experiment with ways to use light effectively within computer systems in order to transmit data thousands of times faster than is currently possible in circuit boards using electrical signals. Optical technology is particularly useful for power-efficient and high-speed data transfers across communications networks, between PCs, as well as in data centres. However energy losses have thus far raised obstacles against its future development.

honeycomb-opticalCurrently optical fibres, which transmit light beams, are only capable of gradual bends and cannot transmit through right-angle turns, which will be critical in the future development of supercomputers as well as smaller, faster microprocessors for smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.

In current processors nanoscale lithographic wires are used to carry electrons through the circuit board, but these wires are so much larger than the electrons that they have been compared to life-size underground tunnels for cockroaches. Optical technologies do not require this wiring which allows manufacturers to incorporate more transmission channels per chip. Industry experts forecast this technology to be fully developed within the next decade.


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