Super-fast computers that process information using photons instead of electrons are a step closer, thanks to the creation of a material that can transmit data at the speed of light. For the first time, scientists have created a material that allows computers to store and transfer information using light instead of electricity. The research overcomes a major hurdle in the goal to develop optical computers capable of processing data at the speed of light.
Right now, computers process information via electrons. This data is moved around microprocessors and memory storage devices through nano-sized wires. But although this technology seems tiny to us, it’s still alot bigger than we really need, and we’re at the pointy end of Moore’s Law where we physically can’t shrink the components much further, which means we can’t make computers much faster than they are now. The next step that many physicists are pursuing is optical computers that process information via particles of light, known as photons, rather than relying on electrons. This is the same way that the internet already transfers information, but we haven’t been able to do the same with computers because scientists haven’t been able to create a material that could carry this optical data around a computer – until now.
“The challenge is to find a single material that can effectively use and control light to carry information around a computer,” said project leader and physicist Richard Curry in a press release. “Much like how the web uses light to deliver information, we want to use light to both deliver and process computer data.” Curry’s team has now managed to find a way to modify a type of glass known as chalcogenide – which is already used in optical devices such as CDs and DVDs – so that they can be used alongside our current systems via Computers that use light instead of electricity will be here within 10 years