Boffins build world's smallest nano-photonic switch

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Boffins build world's smallest nano-photonic switch

Scientists at IBM have built the world's tiniest nano-photonic switch with a footprint about 100 times smaller than the cross section of a human hair. The breakthrough brings Big Blue another step closer to creating chips that use light rather than electrons to transmit data..

According to IBM, the switch is an important building block to control the flow of information inside future chips and can significantly speed up the chip performance while using much less energy.

"This new development is a critical addition in the quest to build an on-chip optical network," said Yurii Vlasov, manager of silicon nanophotonics at IBM's TJ Watson Research Center.

"In view of all the progress that this field has seen for the last few years it looks that our vision for on-chip optical networks is becoming more and more realistic."

With traditional chip development starting to face opposition from the laws from the laws of physics, designers have started to look for other methods of on-chip networking, to allow for faster, smaller and more energy efficient data transmission.

The results have been published in the Nature Photonics journal, in which IBM unveils the development of a silicon broadband optical switch, another key component required to enable on-chip optical interconnects.

Once the electrical signals have been converted into pulses of light, this switching device performs the key role of directing traffic within the network, ensuring that optical messages from one processor core can efficiently get to any of the other cores on the chip.

The device is able to route a huge amount of data since many different wavelengths of light can be switched simultaneously. With each wavelength carrying data at up to 40Gb/s, it is possible to switch an aggregate bandwidth exceeding 1Tb/s, a requirement for routing large messages between distant cores.
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