One more step to optical computers

We already talked about engineers from Bristol who managed to teleport a photon from one chip to another. Today we continue the topic – let’s talk about technology that will allow us to build optical data transmission channels on silicon chips and extend the effect of Moore’s law.

What else do we have on Habré: a new license for applications in the Open Source Initiative.

Photo – L N – Unsplash

The essence of development

One of the promising solutions for heat removal is the replacement of part of the electrical circuits with optical connections. But there is a difficulty: silicon has poor light conduction. An international group of physicists led by Erik Bakkers from Eindhoven University of Technology solved this problem. Specialists have developed silicon alloy nanowire capable of conducting light radiation. To do this, they modified the shape of the crystal lattice of the material so that it consisted of hexagons, not cubes. It is the hexagonal crystal lattice that helps the light to propagate inside the material.

The frame of the new lattice was built from gallium arsenide. Nanowires made of an alloy of silicon and germanium with the necessary hexagonal structure were grown on it. The material can be used to build optical communications directly on the chip. Engineers hope technology will extend Moore’s law (in the context of increased productivity).


According to the developers, they do not expect that the new technology will displace classic electronic components from computers. However, optical connections can be used to exchange information between the CPU and memory – data transfer rate will be a thousand times higher. For these purposes, engineers are already developing a nanolaser built into microcircuits.

In the future, “luminous silicon” will contribute to the development of applications that process large amounts of data – for example, in machine learning. Data centers will also benefit, they will be able to reduce the load on cooling systems, on which have to about 30–40% of electricity consumed by the data center.

Who else works in this area

We also have projects related to the modification of the silicon lattice in Russia. Specialists from the Nizhny Novgorod State University. Lobachevsky submitted a method for obtaining hexagonal modification of a material using ion bombardment.

They irradiated with krypton ions crystals coated with a film of silicon oxide. Then they were burned at a temperature of 800 ° C. After this treatment, a thin layer of hexagonal silicon arose at the boundary of some crystals. This approach has the potential for industrial production.

Photo – Adi goldstein – Unsplash

Many start-ups and universities are developing optical technologies for computing systems that are not related to the “glow of silicon.” For example, in MIT designed programmable nanophotonic processor. It performs matrix operations using waveguides connected Mach – Zehnder interferometers. They change the properties of transmitted rays and are the equivalent of matrix multiplication. The technology is used for accelerated training of neural networks.

System for similar tasks is developing startup Fathom Computing. The company makes an optical computer that can bypass graphic cards in terms of speed of training neural networks. In form, it will resemble a server so that it can be placed in a regular data center.

In the future, optical systems will help increase the processing speed of large amounts of data and optimize high-performance computing.

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