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Stanford Breakthrough Heralds Super-Efficient Light-Based Computers


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Infrared light enters this silicon structure from the left. The cut-out patterns, determined by an algorithm, route two different frequencies of this light into the pathways on the right.

A new process could revolutionize computing by making it practical to use light instead of electricity to carry data inside computers.

Credit: Alexander Piggott

Stanford University researchers have developed a process that could revolutionize computing by making it practical to use light instead of electricity to carry data inside computers.

In essence, the new method involves miniaturizing the proven technology of the Internet, which moves data by sending photons of light through fiber-optic threads. This is possible because silicon is transparent to infrared light, which means wires in computers could be replaced by silicon structures designed to carry infrared light. However, since thousands of these optical interconnects are needed for each electronic system, optical data transport has been impractical for conventional computers.

The Stanford researchers believe they have broken this bottleneck by inventing an inverse design algorithm, via which engineers specify what they want the optical circuit to accomplish. The software then provides the details of how to fabricate a silicon structure to perform the task.

"We used the algorithm to design a working optical circuit and made several copies in our lab," says Stanford researcher Jelena Vuckovic.

The new algorithm produces silicon structures so narrow that more than 20 of them could sit side-by-side within the diameter of a human hair.

From Stanford University
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