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Scientists Take Big Step Towards Using Light instead of Wires in Computers

light wire

Images credit: Vuckovic Lab

Compared with electricity which can transmit data via wires, light should be more efficient in this regard. However, there is still some problem in the way to make it reliably work in a computer.

Recently a group of engineers headed by Jelena Vuckovic of StanfordUniversity has announced a brand-new “optical link” device which is made out of silicon, and this device is capable of bending light at right angles, that is thought to be a vital development in the move to replace electric wires in computers with optics. Their research has been made public in the latest edition of the journal of Scientific Reports.

In a press release, Vuckovic said that light could be able to carry more data than a wire, because it used less energy in transmitting photons than electrons.

Their research is based on the previous work done in the lab, where Vuckovic and the group have developed an algorithm which made it possible for necessary optical devices to be developed in an automatic way. In addition, this algorithm ensured them to design the nanostructures which are necessary to manage light in the process of transmitting optical data.

Such algorithm offered the chance to the team in regard to establishing the optical link. That is a tiny piece of silicon with nanoscale vertical etchings. This eight-micron-long link serving as like a prism could break down beams of light on the basis of wavelength. The etchings are shaped in the way that they would be able to direct the light at 90 degree angles in opposite directions, thus making a shape of T. The fact that the light could be manipulated in this way should be considered as an important move towards the optical data transmission.

The reason why the link is made out of silicon is its index of refraction is only 3.5, much slower than infrared light travels through water (1.3) or air (just about 1). The index of refraction indicates how rapidly light moves through a certain material. The spaces between the etched lines could make it possible for engineers to accurately manage the way in which the light would be reflected and then transmitted when the light goes by between air and silicon.

In explaining their research, Vuckovic said that they intended to have the ability to make the software design the structure of a particular size to give off the desired inputs and outputs for the device. In the past, many nanophotonics scientists had created structures by the application of simple geometries and regular shapes. However, their structures you produced by such unique algorithm are quite different from the previous ones.

Although the link is regarded as an outstanding device at the moment, firstly the algorithm got to it being a usual piece of silicon. Furthermore, in accordance with the success predicted by convex optimization of computational model, the etched lines were added and modified as necessary. While it is necessary for the computer to run several hundred trials so as to ensure that the optical link is rightly calibrated, it takes just 15 minutes to do so.

When talking of the superlative advantage of the algorithm, Alexander Piggott, lead author added that there was no way to analytically design such devices.

Apart from the T-shaped beams of light created by the link in this current research, the algorithm will allow scientists to have unlimited approaches to manipulation of light, that would be quite useful to transmit optic data when further development would be made in this respect.

Source: Standford

Journal reference: Piggott, Alexander Y., et al. “Inverse design and implementation of a wavelength demultiplexing grating coupler.” Scientific reports 4 (2014).

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