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Optical Computing

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.

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Holography is one of the more dramatic forms of photography, in which a three-dimensional image is stored on a photographic plate in the form of interference fringes. Researchers at Purdue University in Indiana have developed a different approach, in which a 3D image is stored in a structure of thousands of V-shaped nanoantennas etched into an ultrathin gold foil. The new approach dramatically shrinks the size of a hologram, potentially enabling photonic and plasmonic devices and optical switches small enough to be integrated into computer chips. Read More

A team of international researchers has developed artificial crystals with unique optical properties that could lead to advances in quantum computing and telecommunications. Their inspiration? The glorious green wings of the Callophyrs Rubi butterfly. Read More

In what is likley a significant development for the future of optical communications, IBM researchers have managed to shrink optical components to fit alongside their electrical counterparts on a single chip. This advance in the realm of “silicon nanophotonics” paves the road to much higher-performance servers, data centers and supercomputers in the years to come. Read More
High hopes have been maintained for decades concerning optical logic, optical switching matrices (e.g. for communications), and optical computing. The missing link in actualizing this promise is a practical circuit element that allows one light to be turned on or off purely by application of another light to the device - rather like voltage on the control gate of a field effect transistor. This missing link has now been developed through a novel application of the complex behavior exhibited by coupled lasers. Read More
Last Thursday at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference in Los Angeles, a team from IBM presented research on their wonderfully-named “Holey Optochip.” The prototype chipset is the first parallel optical transceiver that is able to transfer one trillion bits (or one terabit) of information per second. To put that in perspective, IBM states that 500 high-def movies could be downloaded in one second at that speed, while the entire U.S. Library of Congress web archive could be downloaded in an hour. Stated another way, the Optochip is eight times faster than any other parallel optical components currently available, with a speed that’s equivalent to the bandwidth consumed by 100,000 users, if they were using regular 10 Mb/s high-speed internet. Read More
When it comes to speed, photons leave electrons for dead and have a higher bandwidth, which means optical computers will be much faster than their current electron-based cousins. While optical diodes for use in optical information processing systems already exist, these require external assistance to transmit signals so cannot be readily integrated into computer chips. Now researchers at Purdue University have developed a “passive optical diode” that not only doesn’t require any outside help to transmit signals, but is also so small that millions would fit on a computer chip, potentially leading to faster, more powerful information processing and supercomputers. Read More
Duke University is on a roll, showing off yet another potentially game-changing property of the exotic man-made substances known as metamaterials. This time the property could have deep consequences for the transmission of information via light. Maybe the most important potential use of all. Read More
Much to the distaste of James Bond villains everywhere, scientists from Yale University recently demonstrated not a new, more powerful type of laser, but actually its opposite – the world’s first anti-laser. The device receives incoming beams of light, which interfere with one another in such a way as to cancel each other out. It could apparently have valuable applications in a number of technologies, such as optical computing and radiology. Read More
IBM has announced another breakthrough in its long term research goal to harness the low power consumption and incredible speed promised by optical computing. Following on from the Germanium Avalanche Photodetector – a component able to receive optical information signals at 40 Gb/sec and multiply them tenfold using a mere 1.5V supply – the company has now unveiled a new chip technology that integrates electrical and optical devices on the same piece of silicon. So how far can this technology take us? Eventually, IBM hopes, all way to the Exascale – that's one million trillion calculations per second. Read More
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