During my studies at the University of Toronto I had the opportunity to visit one of the physics labs where our school was working on producing a computer that transmitted its information via light – the idea being that light will not only transmit information much more quickly than conventional electronic chips, but that you would also lose less data when connected to the global fiber-optic network. A big deal when you consider the ever-increasing demand for bandwidth as more and more users come online generating more and more content.
Already we’ve begun processing what are called photonic chips, which allows for the transmission of light to stream data, but have been unable to progress much further as a longstanding engineering problem has impeded development. Until recently engineers have not been able to adequately isolate the light transmission so it’s traveling in only one direction, meaning the transmission is instead read in both directions – thanks to the natural properties of light – which in turn causes instability in the chips. But now it looks like Caltech has solved that problem with the development of an optical isolator utilizing what they call an optical waveguide.
Lead by postdoctoral scholar Liang Feng, he and his team has finally been able to develop a device that has been alluding scientists for twenty years. Their optical isolator with the help of their waveguide ensures that the beam of light can only move forward, as it changes the properties of the light traveling backwards and allows for the chip to then block this transmission, ensuring the stability of the chip. This is of specific significance as it allows for continued use of our traditional computer hardware, instead of the more exotic nonlinear materials believed up to this point to be the only way of addressing this engineering impediment.
While currently just a proof-of-concept experiment to show their findings, they’ve already begun working on a prototype for integration into a traditional computer, which comes at a time when the next generation of photonic chips are expected to be developed that operate at 40 gigabits per second.
Seems like we’re well on our way to the 2025 technological epoch espoused by some futurologists.