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World's First Single-Atom Optical Switch Fabricated


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An illustration depicting the structure of the new single-atom optical switch.

ETH Zurich Switzerland researchers have fabricated the world's first single-atom optical switch, which they say is the equivalent of a single-atom photonic transistor.

Credit: Alexandros Emboras/ETH Zurich

Researchers from ETH Zurich Switzerland have developed the equivalent of a single-atom photonic transistor by fabricating the world's first single-atom optical switch.

The team leveraged plasmonics to create an optical switch that uses a small voltage to relocate an atom and essentially produce a switch that can be turned on or off.

The device features two pads of metal--one silver and one platinum--placed on top of an optical waveguide made of silicon, with only a few nanometers separating them. When the light comes in from an optical fiber, it is guided to the gap between the two metals by an optical waveguide. The light waves cannot pass through, but the plasmon waves on the surface of the metallic pads can. Once the waves of electrons pass through the gap, they can then be turned back again into an optical signal.

The team believes the device could be ready for series production in a few years with the introduction of 10-nm lithography.

From IEEE Spectrum
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