Light can carry data at much higher rates than electricity, but it has always been too expensive and difficult to use light to transmit data among silicon chips in electronic devices. Now, electrical engineers at Stanford have solved a major part of the problem. They have invented a key component that can easily be built into chips to break up a laser beam into billions of bits of data (zeroes and ones) per second. This could help chips output data at a much higher rate than they can now.
’’Most of the high-performance optoelectronics-the stuff that connects optics and electronics-are made from moderately exotic materials, and putting them together with silicon has been hard,’’ says David A. B. Miller, the W. M. Keck Foundation Professor of Electrical Engineering. ’’In the end you’d like to have one platform to make everything, and it would be good if that platform were based on silicon.’’
That single platform is now much closer to reality. The discovery Miller and researchers including James Harris, the James and Ellenor Chesebrough Professor in the School of Engineering, announce in the Oct. 27 issue of the journal Nature is one that may enable a tiny modulator-a solid-state shutter-made of silicon and germanium. Because silicon and germanium are elements common in semiconductor manufacturing, the modulator could be built into chips easily and cheaply.
David Orenstein | EurekAlert!
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