Nashville Researchers Say One Day, Computers & Cell Phones May Run On Tiny Beams Of Light

Posted at 1:09 PM, Sep 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-06 14:32:02-04

Running computers on tiny beams of light? It may sound very Sci-Fi, but that's exactly what researchers at Vanderbilt University are trying to do. 

We all want information quickly.

"It's about light. And it turns out that light can carry information," said Sharon Weiss, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Vanderbilt University. 

That technology already exists in the form of fiber-optic cables. 

"Fiber-optic cables can carry information from the Internet and bring it to your home computer," she said. 

Large fiber-optic cables are just that -- large. But what if they were small? So small they'd fit inside the electronics you use everyday.

"So perhaps inside your laptop or your cell phone," she said. 

Weiss spends her days working with light. 

"What we've done is to find a way to concentrate light to a really, really small area and have very, very high energy," she said. 

Using a structure, she describes as a bow-tie, Weiss and her PhD students can take light and concentrate the beam. They compress the light, smaller and smaller, and then trap it for as long as possible, generating high energy but using low power.

"With computers today if you want to run faster, you need more CPUs or more transistors, these are the fundamental elements of computers that do your calculations. At some point you run out of real estate and as you pack higher and higher density of these components, they run a lot hotter. If you sit with the laptop on your lap for an extended period of time, you know the heat that's generated," she said. 

Weiss is operating on the nanoscale. She says, one day, using this bow-tie structure they might be turning light into ones and zeros.

"It may only take a single photon. So a single unit of like to turn the light on and off inside the bow-tie and when you do that it's like ones and zeros. And all of information processing is based on ones and zeros."