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Moving slowly toward light-speed technology


A major technological transformation -- potentially as significant as the electronics revolution of the 20th century -- is creeping up on a largely unsuspecting world.

Light, in the form of tiny, weightless particles called photons, is on its way to succeeding electrons as the high-tech workhorse of the 21st century, scientists say.

Practical applications of the coming photonics revolution are still a ways off, but researchers offer the prospect of much faster communications, more powerful computers, sharper display screens, more effective ways to convert sunlight to energy and many other benefits.

For example, the Pentagon is experimenting with photonics for future military technologies, such as night vision, early warning sensors and automatic target recognition, according to Anthony Tether, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

By shooting photons through the air instead of pushing electrons along wires, information networks can move data at trillions of bits per second instead of millions or billions, as networks do now. In addition, Tether said, photonic links can provide a thousandfold in savings of size and power needs.

Photons and electrons are very different creatures. Photons are the smallest carriers of energy. They make up the electromagnetic spectrum, an array of forces that includes X-rays and ultraviolet, infrared and radio waves, as well as visible light.

Electrons, in contrast, are a basic component of matter. They are an essential part of every atom and the principal tool of the information age. But they are beginning to run into size and speed limits in some fields, such as computing and telecommunications.

News source: SiliconValley.com

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