University of Minnesota experts announce the development of an innovative microscale optical device, which is capable of using the force generated by light to activate or inactivate a mechanical switch, at very high speeds.
The instrument could be used for effective and rapid data transmission, as well as for increasing download and traffic speed on the Internet. Computation and signal processing technologies could be improved significantly as well.
What the device does is basically replace electrical current with light, resulting in high performances at very low power consumption levels. Details of how this works were published in the October 2 online issue of the top scientific journal Nature Communications.
The basis for this technology were set in 2008 by a UM team led by assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering Mo Li, who was also the lead investigator on the new research. He is based at the UM College of Science and Engineering.
Four years ago, his team demonstrated that constructing light conduits at the nanoscale made light capable of exerting sufficient force on an object that it mechanically forces it to move. The new research is a continuation of this idea, e! Science News
“This device is similar to electromechanical relays but operates completely with light. This is the first time that this novel optomechanical effect is used to amplify optical signals without converting them into electrical ones,” Li explains.
At this point, the new optical device is capable of acting on a mechanical switch around one million times per second, a value that is not enough for practical applications in computing. But the team is confident that they will be able to improve it to several billion operations per second in the near future.
The new research effort was sponsored by the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering and the US Air Force (USAF) Office of Scientific Research.
Combining the new technology with quantum computing capabilities could result in extremely fast systems capable of communicating at many times the rates currently enabled by broadband networks.