New laser vortex patterns to increase chip data rates

Twisting laser patterns into a corkscrew-like pattern, rather than sending the light beams in a line, promises to relieve some data gridlock, say scientists

vortex lead image
Credit: University at Buffalo

A bottleneck in data rates is coming, some scientists say. The ever-increasing demand for faster devices, networked information and collected data threatens to ultimately disappoint society—data throughputs and speeds aren’t going to be able to keep up with our digital thirst if we don’t figure out more efficient methods to do it.

The problem is particularly prevalent within systems. The semiconductor itself is pretty fast, but an issue arises when one tries to get the data in and out of the semiconductor and over to the surrounding electronics. The conventional interconnects, like wires, slow it all down.

Lasers as a solution

Some are betting on lasers as a solution. And indeed growing lasers on silicon substrate is one proposed way. Transistors meshed with photonics is another—silicon-germanium has inherent light-absorbing capabilities.

Notably, in all of these lab cases, light is the medium of choice.

Now we can add vortex-pattern lasers to the mix. Previously too big to fit on a chip, orbital angular momentum microlasers, as they’re called, swirl the laser in a vortex pattern to get it to handle more data.

The corkscrew-like pattern, while previously known as a way to get more data into the laser beam, is now small enough to fit on a chip, researchers from University at Buffalo say in a press release about their size-reducing breakthrough.

Interestingly, this “optics advancement” could also solve an upcoming Moore’s Law crunch. That’s where it could start becoming too expensive to continually reduce the size of microprocessors—as we have been doing since their invention. This way, with better communications between chips, you don’t need to reduce the chip size; you just add more of them—not so much of a problem now because the microprocessors will communicate quickly with one another, unlike before. And they’re small anyway, so electronics don’t have to grow physically.

Vortex lasers could “become a central component of next-generation computers, designed to handle society’s growing demand for information sharing,” the release says.

Traditionally, lasers’ bandwidth has been increased through multiplexing “different signals into one path to carry more information.” This new method encodes data into multiple twisted paths.

Vortex lasers carry more data than traditional lasers

It’s “able to carry 10 times, or more, the amount of information than that of conventional lasers, which move linearly,” the release continues.

We’ve gotten used to the idea of always-on, ever-smaller and speedy, processor-rich smartphones and computers. However, there’s finite bandwidth and a limit to the amount of data that can be carried down any pipes, whether they be fiber, radio, or the wires found within electronics.

Hence a mad scramble to find ways to fit more data in.

Wirelessly, we have 5G coming up. That’s anticipated to be delivered commercially by network operators sometime in the next four years. New fiber light patterns using holograms could increase fiber backhaul data rates by 100 times, some scientists say. And terahertz transmitters could send data ultimately faster than 5G.

Now add swirling lasers built into chips to solve the in-electronics speed issues.

If it all works as promised, we could be seeing continued speed improvements possibly on par with the usability gains we’ve seen as dial-up morphed into DSL and fiber. Thus the digital economy continues, and grows.

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