Imagine this article loaded 20 times faster than it just did on your electronic device; thanks to a new scientific discovery from researchers at the University of Sydney, that feat may soon be possible (video below).
Light-based or photonic computing has been studied by researchers for companies such as Intel and IBM, according to the science website Science Alert. Our computers decode light-based data from internet cables all the time. However, because light travels too fast for microchips to read, the information is converted into electrons so that our computers are able to process it.
The process of transmitting data via electrons makes computers run much slower than they would had the data been processed as light, which could theoretically be 20 times quicker than electronic computers.
Electronic devices also have another caveat: they heat things up. As computers become larger and more complex, the electronic activity inside the device could potentially be a hazard.
Scientists are now attempting to speed up computer processing by converting the light information into sound before converting it back into light. The "acoustic buffer" causes a short delay in which information is able to be stored on a microchip, speeding up the entire process and avoiding the heat-associated risks of electronic methods.
When unaffected by any other force, light will pass through a microchip in two or three nanoseconds. When stored as sound, it can remain on the chip for up to 10 nanoseconds. The difference in time is long enough for the information to be received and processed.
The ability to transfer data in a microchip from light to sound and then back to light again is a big step forward in the development of photonic integrated circuits, or microchips that use light-based information, the Daily Mail reports.
To scientists and many others, the study published on the Nature Communications website is simply impressive.
"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, who supervised the project. "It is like the difference between thunder and lightning."
The chip the researchers used was made of chalcogenide glass, which the Daily Mail says provides optimal guidance of optical and sound waves. It operates at room temperature, which makes it a snap to integrate into photonic circuits.
According to the Daily Mail, the microchips are being developed for uses such as telecommunications, optical fiber networks, and cloud computing data centers.
The breakthrough is also a significant step in the direction of making commercial light-based computers a reality.