Photonic Chips, Light To Replace Electricity In Our Microchips

    November 23, 2011

Right now, as you’re reading this, all kinds of electronic processes are running in your computer to make sure the information you desire is showing up on your monitor. What you might not know is that electricity isn’t the most efficient means of relaying this information, but it’s all we have. Until now. You can send your thank-you letters to MIT, who has made huge strides towards the development of photonic chips.

Many modern day communication systems use fiber optics to transfer information from one location to another. Tiny beams of light transmit much of the information we access on a daily basis. The big hurdle is when the information gets to a location or computer, the information needs to be converted to electronic form so our systems can process the information, and then processed as light again so we can read it.

Caroline Ross, the Toyota Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, has developed a new component, she calls a “diode for light“.

So why haven’t we been using light in our microchips until now?

The problem is harnessing light in such a way that the lasers powering them wouldn’t reduce in efficiency when transferring the information. However, they discovered a material, Garnet, which they could add to microchips, allowing the light to transfer properly.

One practical advancement from this discovery is these photonic chips can be processed using the standards we have now. Ross explains, “It simplifies making an all-optical chip. The design of the circuit can be produced just like an integrated-circuit person can design a whole microprocessor. Now, you can do an integrated optical circuit.

This means the advancement discovered by MIT could have a much quicker shift to the commercial market. The improvements the technology could provide our computational devices is astronomical. First and foremost, light travels much faster than electrons. Also, the wires which are required to transmit electronic signals can only carry a single data stream while light can carry various streams of data through a single fiber or circuit.

The realistic advancements generated from these photonic chips will take us into the next phase of processing power. While the creative dreamer in me is simply asking, “Does this advancement get us one or even two steps closer to having actual lightsabers?