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Surprising Science

Computing at Light Speed

Photonic chips, which use lightbeams to do computering instead of electrons, have advanced greatly in recent years. Now rearchers at MIT want to put them in your personal devices.

What’s the Latest Development?

Photonic chips, which use lightbeams to do computing rather than electrons, have advanced a lot in recent years. Now researchers at MIT have taken a step closer toward puting these photonic chips on silicon material, the building block of today’s personal computer electronics. “When today’s data arrives at a destination, it is converted to electronic form, processed through electronic circuits and then converted back to light using a laser. The new device could eliminate those extra electronic-conversion steps.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The new technology could boost the speed of data transmission for two reasons. First, light simply travels faster than electrons. “Second, while wires can only carry a single electronic data stream, optical computing enables multiple beams of light, carrying separate streams of data, to pass through a single optical fiber or circuit without interference.” Caroline Ross, the Toyota Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT for communications systems, says: “This may be the next generation in terms of speed.”

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