Researchers at TU/e made a breakthrough in research related to photonics. A new technique could lead to computer chips working a 1000 times faster.
The researchers claim that data centres will profit most from the breakthrough. It will lead to faster data processing and improved energy efficiency of the cooling systems. Photonic chips will also make other applications possible. This could include radars with lasers for self-driving cars, chemical sensors for medical diagnoses or measuring air and food quality.
According to the university, chips currently work with electrons. Parts of the chip called transistors send electrons between them. The electrons in turn pass through copper wire which generates heat. Due to an ever increasing demand for data, finding new ways of improving electronic functionality is necessary.
To accomplish this, the field of specialisation is called photonics. It strives to achieve communication between and inside chips by using photons (light particles) instead of electrons. Electrons have a certain mass, which leads to friction and heat in the copper wiring. Photons have no mass, thus no friction or heat is generated.
Electronic chips work with a light source – a laser. Currently, chips are made from silicon. This is not the best suited material as it is a poor conductor of light. Researchers at TU/e have found that combining silicon with another material allows light emission.
The project was in collaboration with the universities of Jena, Linz and Munich. The researchers combined silicon and geranium in a crystal-structure which enables it to emit light. This breakthrough has been 50 years in the making.
Translator: Ame Harris