European light research opens door for optical storage and computing

Apr 24, 2008

The goal of replacing electronics with optics for processing data in computers is coming closer through cutting edge European research into the mysterious properties of “fast and slow” light. The long term aim is to boost processing speeds and data storage densities by several orders of magnitude and take the information technology industry into a new era, combining greatly improved performance with dramatically lower energy consumption.

The phenomenon of “fast and slow” light arises from the dispersion of electromagnetic waves when they interact with, and travel through, a physical medium such as a crystal. This can have the effect of slowing down the light pulses, or on occasions appearing to cause local acceleration. These speed variations have the potential for developing purely optical devices using just electromagnetic radiation, rather than electrical signals, to store and process information.

In the more immediate future, these properties will be used to enhance existing hybrid communication systems combining electronic and photonic (light-based) devices. But first more fundamental research is needed, and the current state of play along with a roadmap for future projects was discussed at a recent workshop organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF).

The project achieved its main objectives of reviewing the state of the art, highlighting possible applications, and gathering a dispersed European community of scientists, according to the workshop’s convenor Marco Santagiustina. “There were two remarkable highlights: slow and fast light research has immense potential in applications like microwave and millimeter wave photonics, and secondly such applications can be targeted by making progress in a selected set of technologies,” said Santagiustina.

Light signals are already used for communication over fibre optic cables, but cannot yet be stored directly, or used for computation. This would require slowing down the light signals so that they can be buffered within a small area, and can be achieved by exploiting “fast and slow” light effects. Before the arrival of true photonic computing, there is the more immediate prospect of building optical interconnects for example in communication networks, which would reduce latency, the time taken for signals to travel from source to destination. Latency imposed by the communications network has become a significant problem in an age of globalisation where computers in different continents are cooperating in tasks that need to be executed very quickly in fractions of a second.

Another more immediate application of “fast and slow” light is likely to come from the ability in processing ultrawide band microwave signals, for radio communications, both for mobile telephony and wireless LANs. “Fast and slow” light can be harnessed to transmit radio frequencies directly over fibre, making it easier, cheaper, and more efficient to connect up base stations or wireless access points. “Radio over fiber is an existing application field destined to grow in the near future,” said Santagiustina. “This field will also represent a significant step forward for the photonic/electronic convergence. In that area the time-delay/phase-shift provided by slow and fast light devices can yield unprecedented functions.”

Some of these functions have not yet been conceived, but the fundamental point is that converging photonics with electronics reduces delays and increases the bandwidth available, cutting costs and boosting communications capacity.

Source: European Science Foundation

Explore further: Swimming algae offer insights into living fluid dynamics

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Italian olive tree disease stumps EU

7 hours ago

EU member states are divided on how to stop the spread of a disease affecting olive trees in Italy that could result in around a million being cut down, officials said Friday.

Festo has BionicANTs communicating by the rules for tasks

7 hours ago

Germany-based automation company Festo, focused on technologies for tasks, turns to nature for inspiration, trying to take the cues from how nature performs tasks so efficiently. "Whether it's energy efficiency, ...

Jury decides Silicon Valley firm did not discriminate

7 hours ago

A jury decided Friday that a prestigious venture capital firm did not discriminate or retaliate against a female employee in a case that shined a light on gender imbalance and working conditions for women ...

Intel in talks with Altera on tie-up

7 hours ago

US tech giant Intel is in talks with rival Altera on a tie-up to broaden the chipmaker's product line amid growth in Internet-connected devices, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Recommended for you

X-rays probe LHC for cause of short circuit

14 hours ago

The LHC has now transitioned from powering tests to the machine checkout phase. This phase involves the full-scale tests of all systems in preparation for beam. Early last Saturday morning, during the ramp-down, ...

New insights found in black hole collisions

14 hours ago

New research provides revelations about the most energetic event in the universe—the merging of two spinning, orbiting black holes into a much larger black hole.

Swimming algae offer insights into living fluid dynamics

18 hours ago

None of us would be alive if sperm cells didn't know how to swim, or if the cilia in our lungs couldn't prevent fluid buildup. But we know very little about the dynamics of so-called "living fluids," those ...

Fluctuation X-ray scattering

Mar 26, 2015

In biology, materials science and the energy sciences, structural information provides important insights into the understanding of matter. The link between a structure and its properties can suggest new ...

Hydrodynamics approaches to granular matter

Mar 26, 2015

Sand, rocks, grains, salt or sugar are what physicists call granular media. A better understanding of granular media is important - particularly when mixed with water and air, as it forms the foundations of houses and off-shore ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.