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The computer that goes at the speed of light (seriously)

Eric Mazur Harvard

The speed of light could guarantee telecommunications. Computers could soon switch from metallic wires to signals via optical fiber

Eric Mazur HarvardScientists are close to creating a computer that uses light instead of electrons to transmit information. Today computers use electrons to convey information, but the future may be different. The light could guarantee the same level of telecommunications progress and one could switch between electrical signals (with metallic wires) and optical signals (with fiber optic cables). Some publications of the department of Eric Mazur of Harvard have shown that the change could be very close. The difficulty in using light linked to very small scale dimensions. Modern computers use around 10 billion tiny signals, called transistors, to handle information without a microchip being needed. To make this optical process instead of electronic, optical fibers must integrate optical transistor versions, and until now it was not possible to create miniature optical chips. Now for a new solution, called on-chip zero-index metamaterials could lead to a change. The Greek prefix meta means going further and the name wants to underline how this solution represents the overcoming of the use of traditional materials. Metamaterials reflect light in the opposite direction from traditional ones, as their negative refractive index or, in the case of this new material, the zero index. With the speed of light we mean the speed with which light travels in a vacuum. In the air the light moves less rapidly and in water even more slowly. A material property called refractive index characterizes the speed difference. The higher the index, the slower the passage of light in the material. When the light enters a material with a refractive index equal to zero, it is possible to transmit even on a very small scale. Materials with zero index also existed in the past, but the first time they are combined with a microchip. At the scale of nano size (1 million times smaller than a millimeter). According to Yang Li, one of the researchers of Mazur Lab and author of the publication, this will be the solution to transmit with light without microchip. Other applications are already horizon. The research team hopes to use the new material in other areas as well.