Innovation That Matters

New research suggests that, in the future, the 1s and 0s underpinning computer code could be generated using light rather than electric currents | Photo source Jack Walker on Unsplash

A new optical switch 1,000 times faster than silicon transistors

Computing & Tech

The experimental new technology uses lasers to create a super-fast 'switch' that uses very little energy

Sign in or buy a plan to view this innovation

Spotted: An international research team led by Russia’s Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, working in collaboration with IBM, has created an extremely energy-efficient optical switch. The switch is very fast and requires no cooling. It could potentially form the basis of a new generation of computers that manipulate photons rather than electrons.

The switch is created using a 35-nanometre semi-conducting polymer, made from organic material, sandwiched between highly reflective surfaces. This creates a microscopic cavity which traps incoming light. Two lasers help operate the device – a pump laser and a seed laser. When the pump laser shines on the switch, this creates thousands of  identical quasiparticles in the same location, forming a so-called Bose-Einstein condensate — collections of particles that each behave like a single atom. The seed beam is used to switch this condensate between two measurable states that serve as the ‘0’ and ‘1’ of binary code.   

The new device can operate at speeds as high as 1 trillion operations per second, up to 1,000 times faster than today’s fastest commercial transistors. In addition, it uses far less energy to switch states than transistors. This is because the optical switch can be triggered with just a single photon of light. Comparable electronic transistors that use single electrons usually require bulky cooling equipment that consumes large amounts of power. The new switch, by contrast, will work at room temperature. 

The technology still has a way to go before it can be used in practice. The study’s senior author, Pavlos Lagoudakis, pointed out that, “It took 40 years for the first electronic transistor to enter a personal computer”.

Here at Springwise, we have often spotted advances in supercomputing, such as the use of supercomputers to model tsunamis or the development of quantum algorithms. But if this technology can be scaled up, it will revolutionise how binary code—the most basic building block of computing—is generated.

Written By: Lisa Magloff



Download PDF

Springwise Services:
Our expertise in spotting the latest innovations is the best resource to empower your team’s future planning.

Find out More