Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Researchers develop chip-scale optical abacus


A team of researchers led by Prof. Wolfram Pernice from the Institute of Physics at Münster University has developed a miniature abacus on a microchip which calculates using light signals. With it they are paving the way to the development of new types of computer in which, as in the human brain, the computing and storage functions are combined in one element.

Researchers at the universities of Münster, Exeter and Oxford have developed a miniature “abacus” which can be used for calculating with light signals. With it they are paving the way to the development of new types of computer in which, as in the human brain, the computing and storage functions are combined in one element – in contrast to conventional computers, in which the two are separated in line with the so-called Von Neumann Principle. The study has been published in the latest issue of the journal “Nature Communications”.

Illustration of a chip-scale optical abacus with integrated optical waveguides. The memory cells are located at the crossings. The abacus is shown for demonstration.

Illustration: WWU/Johannes Feldmann

“In the article we describe for the first time the realization of an abacus which operates in a purely optical way,” explains Prof. Wolfram Pernice from the Institute of Physics at Münster University who lead the team. “Instead of having wooden beads on a wire, our abacus counts light pulses and stores them in a phase-change material such as is used for rewriteable DVDs.”

The optical abacus is installed on a microchip and can be easily manufactured. Using integrated photonic circuits the researchers can store data on it, read the data, and do all the basic arithmetical operations with it. So far, the researchers have succeeded in calculating with two-digit numbers using two photonic phase-change cells, but the extension to large multi-digit numbers simply involves the use of more cells.

The long-term aim that the researchers have is the creation of so-called neuromorphic computer architectures – i.e. computers which replicate the human brain. One central feature is the elimination of the separation between processor and data storage.

“We are also computing with light – and not with electrons, as is the case with traditional computers,” says co-author Prof. Harish Bhaskaran from the University of Oxford. “This means that we can develop much faster systems which can be connected using integrated optical waveguides.”

To this end, the researchers need a variety of components, including artificial neuron type cells and artificial synapses, i.e. the “connection points” between neurons. The researchers already created the artificial synapses just recently as part of another study.

“If we are successful in developing a complete photonic computer system, we could process large amounts of data very quickly – without making a detour via electronic systems,” says Prof. David Wright, a co-author from the University of Exeter.

The work involves basic research. Whether and when it can be put into practice is not yet certain, but according to the scientists these initial results are very promising indeed. The study was funded by the German Research Foundation.

Original publication:

Feldmann J., Stegmaier M. et al. (2017): Calculating with light using a chip-scale all-optical abacus. Nature Communications 8, Article number: 1256 (2017) doi:10.1038/s41467-017-01506-3

Dr. Christina Heimken | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Need entangled atoms? Get 'Em FAST! with NIST's new patent-pending method
08.11.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Theoretical physicists are modeling complex quantum processes with cold atoms and ions
08.11.2017 | RUDN University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

Im Focus: Support Free with “TwoCure” – Innovation in Resin-Based 3D Printing

The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT and Rapid Shape GmbH are working together to further develop resin-based 3D printing. The new “TwoCure” process requires no support structures and is significantly more efficient and productive than conventional 3D printing techniques for plastic components. Experts from Fraunhofer ILT will be presenting the state-funded joint development that makes use of the interaction of light and cold in forming the components at formnext 2017 from November 14 to 17 in Frankfurt am Main.

Much like stereolithography, one of the best-known processes for printing 3D plastic components works using photolithographic light exposure that causes liquid...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

3rd Symposium on Driving Simulation

23.10.2017 | Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

Latest News

Scientists find missing clue to how HIV hacks cells to propagate itself

09.11.2017 | Life Sciences

Bringing Natural Killer cells to the tumor battlefield

09.11.2017 | Life Sciences

Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

09.11.2017 | Social Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>