Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Penn engineers' new topological insulator reroutes photonic 'traffic' on the fly

13.09.2019

Dynamic data routing could make for faster photonic chips that use their entire footprint

Topological insulators are a game-changing class of materials; charged particles can flow freely on their edges and route themselves around defects, but can't pass through their interiors.


The researchers' chip features a tessellated grid of oval rings. By "pumping" individual rings with an external laser, they are able to dynamically redefine the path photons take.

Credit: University of Pennsylvania


The researchers' chip features a tessellated grid of oval rings. By "pumping" individual rings with an external laser, they are able dynamically redefine the path photons take.

Credit: University of Pennsylvania

This perfect surface conduction holds promise for fast and efficient electronic circuits, though engineers must contend with the fact that the interiors of such materials are effectively wasted space.

Now, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, where topological insulators were first discovered in 2005, have shown a way to fulfill that promise in a field where physical space is at an even bigger premium: photonics. They have shown, for the first time, a way for a topological insulator to make use of its entire footprint.

By using photons instead of electrons, photonic chips promise even faster data transfer speeds and information-dense applications, but the components necessary for building them remain considerably larger than their electronic counterparts, due to the lack of efficient data-routing architecture.

A photonic topological insulator with edges that can be redefined on the fly, however, would help solve the footprint problem. Being able to route these "roads" around one another as needed means the entire interior bulk could be used to efficiently build data links.

Researchers at Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science have built and tested such a device for the first time, publishing their findings in the journal Science.

"This could have a big impact on large-information capacity applications, like 5G, or even 6G, cellphone networks," says Liang Feng, assistant professor in Penn Engineering's Departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Electrical and Systems Engineering.

"We think this may be the first practical application of topological insulators," he says.

Feng led the study along with graduate student Han Zhao, a member of his lab. Fellow lab members Xingdu Qiao, Tianwei Wu and Bikashkali Midya, along with Stefano Longhi, professor at the Polytechnic University of Milan in Italy, also contributed to the research.

The data centers that form the backbone of communication networks route calls, texts, email attachments and streaming movies to and between millions of cellular devices. But as the amount of data flowing through these data centers increases, so does the need for high-capacity data routing that can keep up with the demand.

Switching from electrons to photons would speed up this process for the upcoming information explosion, but engineers must first design a whole new library of devices for getting those photons from input to output without mixing them up and losing them in the process.

Advances in data-processing speed in electronics have relied on making their core components smaller and smaller, but photonics researchers have needed to take a different approach.

Feng, Zhao and their colleagues set out to maximize the complexity of photonic waveguides -- the prescribed paths individual photons take on their way from input to output -- on a given chip.

The researchers' prototype photonic chip is roughly 250 microns squared, and features a tessellated grid of oval rings. By "pumping" the chip with an external laser, targeted to alter the photonic properties of individual rings, they are able to alter which of those rings constitute the boundaries of a waveguide.

The result is a reconfigurable topological insulator. By changing the pumping patterns, photons headed in different directions can be routed around each other, allowing photons from multiple data packets to travel through the chip simultaneously, like a complicated highway interchange.

"We can define the edges such that photons can go from any input port to any output port, or even to multiple outputs at once," Feng says. "That means the ports-to-footprint ratio is at least two orders of magnitude greater than current state-of-the-art photonic routers and switches."

Increased efficiency and speed is not the only advantage of the researchers' approach.

"Our system is also robust against unexpected defects," Zhao says. "If one of the rings is damaged by a grain of dust, for example, that damage is just making a new set of edges that we can send photons along."

Since the system requires an off-chip laser source to redefine the shape of the waveguides, the researcher's system is not yet small enough to be useful for data centers or other commercial applications. Next steps for the team will be to establish a fast reconfiguring scheme in an integrated fashion.

Media Contact

Evan Lerner
elerner@seas.upenn.edu
215-573-6604

 @Penn

http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews 

Evan Lerner | EurekAlert!
Further information:
https://medium.com/penn-engineering/penn-engineers-new-topological-insulator-can-reroute-photonic-traffic-on-the-fly-making-for-4804f6a30a46?source=friends_link&sk=78b604cc2ba5e754c0a40d61e8b0e659
http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aay1064

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Energy Flow in the Nano Range
18.10.2019 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

nachricht Biologically inspired skin improves robots' sensory abilities (Video)
11.10.2019 | Technical University of Munich (TUM)

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Solving the mystery of quantum light in thin layers

A very special kind of light is emitted by tungsten diselenide layers. The reason for this has been unclear. Now an explanation has been found at TU Wien (Vienna)

It is an exotic phenomenon that nobody was able to explain for years: when energy is supplied to a thin layer of the material tungsten diselenide, it begins to...

Im Focus: An ultrafast glimpse of the photochemistry of the atmosphere

Researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have explored the initial consequences of the interaction of light with molecules on the surface of nanoscopic aerosols.

The nanocosmos is constantly in motion. All natural processes are ultimately determined by the interplay between radiation and matter. Light strikes particles...

Im Focus: Shaping nanoparticles for improved quantum information technology

Particles that are mere nanometers in size are at the forefront of scientific research today. They come in many different shapes: rods, spheres, cubes, vesicles, S-shaped worms and even donut-like rings. What makes them worthy of scientific study is that, being so tiny, they exhibit quantum mechanical properties not possible with larger objects.

Researchers at the Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility located at DOE's Argonne National...

Im Focus: Novel Material for Shipbuilding

A new research project at the TH Mittelhessen focusses on the development of a novel light weight design concept for leisure boats and yachts. Professor Stephan Marzi from the THM Institute of Mechanics and Materials collaborates with Krake Catamarane, which is a shipyard located in Apolda, Thuringia.

The project is set up in an international cooperation with Professor Anders Biel from Karlstad University in Sweden and the Swedish company Lamera from...

Im Focus: Controlling superconducting regions within an exotic metal

Superconductivity has fascinated scientists for many years since it offers the potential to revolutionize current technologies. Materials only become superconductors - meaning that electrons can travel in them with no resistance - at very low temperatures. These days, this unique zero resistance superconductivity is commonly found in a number of technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Future technologies, however, will harness the total synchrony of electronic behavior in superconductors - a property called the phase. There is currently a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Symposium on Functional Materials for Electrolysis, Fuel Cells and Metal-Air Batteries

02.10.2019 | Event News

NEXUS 2020: Relationships Between Architecture and Mathematics

02.10.2019 | Event News

Optical Technologies: International Symposium „Future Optics“ in Hannover

19.09.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Energy Flow in the Nano Range

18.10.2019 | Power and Electrical Engineering

MR-compatible Ultrasound System for the Therapeutic Application of Ultrasound

18.10.2019 | Medical Engineering

Double layer of graphene helps to control spin currents

18.10.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>