Boffins building computer that runs on light

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Boffins building computer that runs on light

Researchers focus on photonics.

Physicists at the University of Bath are working on a project to create computers that run on light rather than traditional electronics.

The £820,000 ($2,011) research project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will look at developing technology to send light in a continuous series of pulses that last only an attosecond, or one billion billionth of a second.

The research could help in the development of photonics, and may give physicists a chance to look very closely at the world of atomic structure for the first time.

"Harnessing optical waves would represent a huge step, perhaps the definitive step, in establishing the photonics era," said Dr Fetah Benabid, who will be leading the team of researchers.

"Since the development of the laser, a major goal in science and technology has been to emulate the breakthroughs of electronics by using optical waves. We feel this project could be a big step."

While Moore's Law has held true for the past 40 years or so, chip makers are rapidly approaching the point where chips cannot get any smaller as electro-magnetic fields created by one transistor start to play havoc with nearby transistors.

As a result engineers are looking to the science of photonics, which uses light to convey information, as a much more powerful alternative.

But photonics can only use light with a sinuous waveform, which has limited value for the communications needed to run a computer.

The Bath researchers want to allow photonics to create waveforms in a variety of patterns. They are using new photonic crystal fibres because, unlike conventional optical fibres, the fibres can channel light without losing much energy.

Dr Benabid suggested that the research could have far reaching applications in fields such as laser surgery and quantum physics.

"If successful, the research will be the basis for a revolution in computer power as dramatic as that over the past 50 years," he said.
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