The rapid and on-going development of micro-miniature optical electronic devices is helping to usher in a new era of photonic computers and light-based memories
that promise super-fast processor speeds and ultra-secure
communications. However, as these components are shrunk ever further, fundamental limits to their dimensions are dictated by the wavelength of light itself. Now researchers at ETH Zurich claim to have overcome this limitation by creating both the world's smallest optical switch using a single atom,
and accompanying circuitry that appears to break the rules by being
smaller than the wavelength of the light that passes through it.
non-volatile optical memory has been created by researchers working at the Karlsruhe
Institute of Technology (KIT) and the universities of Münster, Oxford, and
Exeter. Utilizing innovative phase-change materials to store information, the
new device promises to significantly improve processing speeds by effectively
eliminating the existing bottleneck of having to convert optical signals into electrical
signals for storage and then back again for transmission.
Silicon photonics is an emerging technology that incorporates electronic circuits using photons of laser light rather than electrons to transmit, receive, and manipulate information. As such, a silicon photonic CPU could potentially process information at the speed of light – millions of times faster than computers available today. In a step towards this goal, engineers working at the University of Utah have developed an ultra-compact photonic beam-splitter so small that millions of these devices could fit on a single silicon chip.