Researchers at Purdue University said they've developed a "passive optical diode" made from two tiny silicon rings measuring 10 microns in diameter, or about one-tenth the width of a human hair.
Unlike other optical diodes, it does not require external assistance to transmit signals, they said.
The diodes exhibit "non-reciprocal transmission," meaning the device transmits signals in only one direction, making it capable of information processing, Minghao Qi, professor of electrical and computer engineering, said.
"This one-way transmission is the most fundamental part of a logic circuit, so our diodes open the door to optical information processing," Qi said.
Fiber optic cables transmit large quantities of data across oceans and continents, but information processing is slowed down when optical signals must be translated into electronic signals for use in computers, and vice versa.
The new optical chips could change that, the Purdue team said.
"The major factor limiting supercomputers today is the speed and bandwidth of communication between the individual superchips in the system," researcher Leo Varghese said. "Our optical diode may be a component in optical interconnect systems that could eliminate such a bottleneck."