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Computing at the Speed of Light

University of Utah News (05/18/15) Vincent Horiuchi

University of Utah researchers have developed an ultracompact beamsplitter for dividing light waves into separate channels for information, a breakthrough they say could lead to the next generation of computers and mobile devices that can operate at speeds millions of times faster than conventional machines. The researchers say the device is a step toward the development of silicon photonic chips that compute and shuttle data with light rather than electrons. Although light is the fastest medium that can be used to transmit information, that information must be converted to electrons before a device can manipulate it. However, that bottleneck could be eliminated if the data stream remained as light within computer processors. The Utah researchers achieved that process by creating a much smaller form of a polarization beamsplitter on top of a silicon chip that can split guided incoming light into its two components. On a future silicon chip, the beamsplitter would be just one of several passive devices used to direct light waves in different ways. By shrinking the devices down to just 2.4-square microns, researchers will be able to squeeze millions of them on a single chip. The researchers note their design would be inexpensive to produce because it uses existing fabrication techniques for creating silicon chips.

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