Researchers find reliable method of storing light which could lead to new light-based computers

Imagine if you could make your computer 20 times faster than it is now. Thanks to recent research efforts by a group of scientists from the University of Sydney in Australia, you probably won’t even need to imagine it in the future, as it will become a possibility. The scientists are said to be the first to ever make a truly effective method of light-based computing, wherein they managed to store light-based information as sound waves on a working computer chip. This development could potentially open the door to next-level computing devices that are light-based instead of electronic.

As a report on the scientific discovery of this new light-based computing method states, the ability to move from current standard electronic computers to future light-based counterparts is reliant on the conversion method unlocked by the researchers. This method, which the researchers likened to “capturing lightning as thunder,” would allow computers to work at essentially the speed of light.

It has been known for quite some time that if computers could manipulate light, in the form of photons, instead of electrons, then data processing would be so much faster than it currently is. However, light itself is simply too fast for today’s computer chips to process directly, so that’s why the researchers devised the crucial step to convert the light to sound first.

According to Moritz Merklein, one of the scientists that formed the research team that conducted the study, the conversion process from light to sound is highly necessary. “For [light-based computers] to become a commercial reality, photonic data on the chip needs to be slowed down so that they can be processed, routed, stored and accessed.”

Meanwhile, Benjamin Eggleton, another team member, said that, “This is an important step forward in the field of optical information processing,” due to the fact it fulfills all requirements for current as well as future generation optical communication systems. (Related: Research into light sensitivity shows how the human eye responds to “invisible light,” impacting several important biological functions.)

The key to their method lies in a special memory system that enables accurate transfers between light and sound waves on a so-called photonic microchip. This kind of microchip is the only one that can be used in actual light-based computers, so the researchers devised a method to make it work with current electronic microchip technology.

By converting the light into sound waves, the researchers weer able to slow it down. This has the benefit of making data retrieval much more accurate, and it also improves the ability to control information “by several orders of magnitude,” according to Merklein.

In case you’re still wondering why exactly it would be a good idea to move towards light-based computing, you should know that there are other benefits apart from speeding up the rate of data processing. For one thing, data that is delivered at light speed shouldn’t come across any electronic resistance, which means that it doesn’t generate heat from doing so. It also doesn’t suffer from interference from electromagnetic radiation. Really, the only step necessary to make it work in the real world is to slow it down enough so that computer chips can keep up.

This new research effort shows that there is indeed some light at the end of this proverbial tunnel, and light-based computers could become real faster than you expect them to be.

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