Penn researcher: "We see a future where 'consumer electronics' become 'consumer photonics'"

UPenn touts development of first all-optical nanowire switch

University of Pennsylvania researchers are touting their creation of an all-optical switch that uses nanowires to transmit and process information using light pulses rather than electricity.

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Such a development could pave the way for quantum computers that are exponentially faster than current systems.

The Penn researchers, who published their findings in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, built their switches using tiny cadmium sulfide nanowires and combined them into a logic gate to process data. Earlier research by the team showed that cadmium sulfide nanowires are well equipped to manipulate light. (The image here shows laser light being emitted from the end of a cadmium sulfide nanowire.)

"The biggest challenge for photonic structures on the nanoscale is getting the light in, manipulating it once it's there and then getting it out," said Associate Professor Ritesh Agarwal of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science. "Our major innovation was how we solved the first problem, in that it allowed us to use the nanowires themselves for an on-chip light source."

While we're still a ways away from commercial products using such techniques, Agarwal is buoyed by what the findings could mean.

"We see a future where 'consumer electronics' become 'consumer photonics,'" Agarwal said. "And this study shows that is possible."

The research was supported by the U.S. Army Research Office and the National Institutes of Health's New Innovator Award Program.

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