Utah researchers make light-speed computing breakthrough

Claim light-speed advances could make their way to supercomputers super soon

University of Utah photonics
Credit: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering

University of Utah researchers are touting an engineering breakthrough that they say could have supercomputers working at the speed of light within three years and other computers including mobile devices doing the same sometime after that.

The University's Menon Research Group, led by Associate Professor Rajesh Menon, specializes in the intersection of nanotechnology and optics, and has a good track record of commercializing its work. 

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The College of Engineering's latest creation -- an ultracompact beamsplitter on top of a silicon chip that divvies up lightwaves into separate channels -- is designed to enable networks and computers to transmit data using light instead of electrons.

rajesh menon University of Utah Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering

University of Utah's Rajesh Menon

"Light is the fastest thing you can use to transmit information," said Menon, in a statement. "But that information has to be converted to electrons when it comes into your laptop. In that conversion, you're slowing things down. The vision is to do everything in light... With all light, computing can eventually be millions of times faster."

The technology could also make it so that devices, such as smartphones, burn less energy and stay powered up longer.

You can read the paper (by Bing Shen, Peng Wang, Randy Polson and Menon) at the Nature Photonics journal.

Optical networking and computing has the attention of academia and commercial vendors. More advances were shown recently at the annual OFC event in Anaheim. And vendors such as Intel are using light pulses to speed supercomputing.

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