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Computing at the Speed of Light

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student Sergio Cantu.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student Sergio Cantu studies lasers to increase computational speed and security.

Credit: Bryce Vickmark

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Sergio Cantu studies how light can act as an information carrier in computing and calculating.

Although light's unmatched speed could support extremely fast and efficient computing, the speed also presents challenges in future computing applications, according to Cantu.

One of the techniques Cantu and colleagues are experimenting with is called electromagnetically induced transparency, which enables scientists to slow the speed of propagation of light while it travels through an atomic gas to about 100 meters per second. The slowed speed of propagation of light enables researchers to manipulate matter one unit of light at a time.

The researchers found they were able to map specific interactions between light and atoms, and use that as a way to transmit and exchange information. "[Each wavelength of] light interacts differently with matter, and can be used to transmit a diversity of information," Cantu says.

He notes quantum computing technology can lead to very secure communications. "I usually only send people pictures of cats, but they're very secure pictures of cats," Cantu jokes. "But the point of quantum computing is that it will allow you to interact with the world much more securely, and for me that's a huge advantage no matter who you are or what you're sending."

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