We’ve all seen lightening streak across the sky before we’ve heard the boom of thunder during a storm. Light speed in science fiction movies like Star Wars was the fastest speed at which characters could fly their space ships. Researches at Stanford University have long been trying to harness this knowledge by developing a way for light rather than electricity to carry data.
In a report published Thursday, a new silicon chip component had been found capable of splitting laser beams into millions of tiny pieces. Researches hope this technological breakthrough could enable the manufacturing of a tiny modulator capable of carrying data at 100 billion times a second, or fifty percent faster than modern computing hardware.
“Most of the high-performance optoelectronics—the stuff that connects optics and electronics—are made from moderately exotic materials, and putting them together with silicon has been hard,” said David A. B. Miller, Stanford’s W. M. Keck Foundation professor of electrical engineering.
Researchers hope to use germanium blended with silicon to make their new light transmitting chip, commonly used semiconductor materials. The “Stark Effect” is what made this chip component able to transmit light. It occurs when a wavelength of light, absorbed by an electron, is changed as a result of a strong electrical field applied to the atom within which it is found. This effect allows materials to act as shutters for certain wavelengths of light.
Scientist thought the electrons in silicon and germanium were arranged in the wrong order for this to happen. They were surprised when this turned out not to be the case 100% of the time.
The next task for confident Stanford researchers is to make modulators that work for the standard wavelengths used in electrical engineering.
Silicon chip giant Intel and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funded the research.