Scientists claim to have created a new optical device small enough to fit millions on a computer chip which could lead to faster, more powerful information processing and supercomputers.
A team at Purdue University says the "passive optical diode" is made from two tiny silicon rings measuring some 10 microns in diameter, or about one-tenth the width of a human hair, the 'Science' journal reported.
Unlike other optical diodes, it doesn't require external assistance to transmit signals and can be readily integrated into computer chips.
The diode is capable of "nonreciprocal transmission", meaning it transmits signals in only one direction, making it capable of information processing, said Prof Minghao Qi, who led the team.
"This one-way transmission is the most fundamental part of a logic circuit, so our diodes open the door to optical information processing," added Qi.
Although fibre-optic cables are instrumental in transmitting large quantities of data across oceans and continents, information processing is slowed and the data are susceptible to cyberattack when optical signals must be translated into electronic signals for use in computers, and vice versa, say the scientists.
"This translation requires expensive equipment. What you'd rather be able to do is plug the fiber directly into computers with no translation needed, and then you get a lot of bandwidth and security," they said.
Electronic diodes constitute critical junctions in transistors and help enable integrated circuits to switch on and off and to process information.
"The new optical diodes are compatible with industry manufacturing processes for complementary metal-oxide -semiconductors used to produce computer chips. These diodes are very compact, and they have other attributes that make them attractive as a potential component for future photonic information processing chips," the scientists said.
The new optical diodes could make for faster and more secure information processing by eliminating the need for this translation, the scientists added.