Australia breakthrough brings computers into new light

Australian researchers have developed a technique to convert electrical signals on silicon into light, which some suggest could spark the next revolution in computing.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have developed the technique for silicon to convert electrical signals into light, which used in devices such as microchips will enable computers to transmit data at the "speed of light".

"The telecommunications industry uses semiconductors which has the ability to emit light. However, microelectronics is based on silicon which hasn't been able to emit light efficiently, up until now," Professor Martin Green at UNSW Photovoltaics Special Research Centre told ZDNet Australia.

Professor Green explained that as the microelectronic chips become smaller and faster, electrical wires needed to transmit signals between the chips have to become thinner, which becomes difficult.

"This problem has bought about the additional impetus to find a way to get silicon to emit light so that signals are sent by light waves, rather than through long electrical wires," he said.

"This [development] is the first suggestion that it can be done reasonably efficiently, its somewhere between ten to 100 times better than what's ever been reported before," Professor Green said.

He said it is their first attempt at reversing the photovoltaic effect, which is converting electricity into light.

The meaning behind all this technical speak is that both the computer industry and the telecommunications industry can use the same technologies to send signals to each other. It will also simplify transmission down optical fibres, removing the need for relatively expensive and largely incompatible optical switches.

Professor Green explained that light emitting diodes work well with semiconductors but work poorly with silicon. "This new development bridges the gap between two technologies," he said.

"Now we can use the technology in microchips which future generations of computers will use,"

"Much work remains to be done, but we believe this opens up a new window of opportunity for Australia in the global computer industry, which is worth billions, perhaps trillions, of dollars a year," Professor Green said.

News source: ZDnet Australia

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