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Light Stored as Sound in Computer Chip for the First Time

by John Rosca / Sep 19, 2017 10:13 AM EDT
Shake the Light Bar

Scientists have found a way to store light-based information in the form of sound waves on a microchip. The technological breakthrough could prove to be a game-changer for the computer industry, giving rise to light-based devices much speedier than present-day machines.

Researchers at the University of Sydney reported the new finding, which marks the first time that optical data has been transferred as acoustic data inside a computer chip. The technology to convert from the optical realm to the acoustic and back again is necessary for the development of photonic computing, says Phys.org.

Photonic or light-based computers can manipulate information using light instead of electrons, which will give them at least 20 times the speed of computers today. Such machines will be a lot more efficient, as their chips will consume less energy, produce less heat and be less susceptible to electronic interference.

The challenge of developing these computers is in the handling of photons, which as expected, move at the speed of light. Information in the form of photons moves too quickly for computer hardware to read, which makes it hard to transfer data.

Today's technology includes fiber-optic communications that can send data as pulses of light from one device to another. Telecommunications, cable television and high-band Internet all make use of fiber-optic transmission. But devices still need to transform the photonic data into electron-based or electronic data.

A more efficient alternative would be to convert the light-based data into sound, notes Science Alert. Sound waves move at a much slower speed that enables microchips to effectively process acoustic information.

"It is like the difference between thunder and lightning," said research project supervisor Birgit Stiller, reports Inhabitat. The researchers at the University of Sydney have published their results in the article "A chip-integrated coherent photonic-phononic memory" in the September issue of the journal "Nature."

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