Emerging Issues in Security

Chip Breakthrough Carries Digital Data as Sound Waves

In what is labeled a breakthrough, researchers from Australia are the first to successfully store light-based information as sound waves on a microchip. The new chip slows down the speed photons travel when processing the data being carried by them, making them ideal for use in computing.

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Traditional electronics used in telecommunications and optical fiber optic networks may someday be replaced by the chalcogenide glass microchip. A new microchip developed by a team of researchers from the University of Sydney (USyd) and fabricated at the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS), takes data stored in photons, converts them to sound waves, and then converts them back into optical data again.

The USyd researchers said they have dramatically slowed digital information carried as light waves and are developing the chips to be used for more efficient telecommunications, optical fiber networks and datacenters, areas where traditional electronic devices are currently in use.

Using electrons to transfer data is limited by the speed of electrons. Traditional electronics are vulnerable to interference and electronic resistance generates excessive heat. Implementing light and sound waves on a photonic microchip eliminates these problems.

Photons are very good carriers of information. They are immune to electromagnetic interference, and there is no electronic resistance to produce heat. Information enters in the form of light waves and is converted and stored in the chip as acoustic waves. With this process, storing light-based information as sound waves on a computer chip, overall bandwidth increases, and data can travel at light-speed.

Computer systems will keep getting bigger and as the processing power of computers continues to increase, light-based computing, which encodes data in photons rather than electrons, is a major area of research for companies such as IBM and Intel.

According to the USyd, transferring the information from the optical acoustic domain and back again inside a chip is critical for the development of photonic integrated circuits—essentially microchips that use light instead of electrons to manage data.

Computer networks that use photons would be much faster than traditional digital networks relying on electrons. Light is extremely useful when it comes to moving information across a great distance. However, the speed of photons also creates a problem. They travel too fast for existing computer chips to read. Computers are not able to process the data being carried by them. The new microchip solves this problem.

“The information in our chip in acoustic form travels at a velocity five orders of magnitude slower than in the optical domain,” said Birgit Stiller, research fellow at the University of Sydney and supervisor of the project.

The delay between the light and sound in the chip “allows for the data to be briefly stored and managed inside the chip for processing, retrieval and further transmission as light waves,” said the researcher.

“Our system is not limited to a narrow bandwidth,” said Stiller. “So unlike previous systems this allows us to store and retrieve information at multiple wavelengths simultaneously, vastly increasing the efficiency of the device.”