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Computer scientists invent new way to manipulate light

"One of challenges when using light is figuring out a way to make tight bends," said study author Raymond Rumpf.
By Brooks Hays   |   March 19, 2015 at 3:25 PM

ORLANDO, Fla., March 19 (UPI) -- Scientists say a new device that controls light faster and more efficiently than ever before is key to the development of the next generation of supercomputers.

The device is a tiny plastic honeycomb, smaller than a bee's stinger. The structure can bend light around the tightest of corners without sacrificing the speed or structural integrity of the light beam.

The employment of light beams are essential to supercomputers and their promise of speed and power, as light-based computer processing systems can move information at speeds thousands of times faster than traditional devices, which rely on electrical signals.

But even though light is fast, it's difficult to manipulate without slowing or diminishing the quality of the light beam.

"Computer chips and circuit boards have metal wire connections within them that transport data signals," Raymond Rumpf, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Texas El Paso, explained in a recent press release. "One of challenges when using light is figuring out a way to make tight bends so we can replace the metal wiring more effectively."

Currently, optical fibers are the most common technique for transporting light-based information. But these wires can't make sudden turns, the path must be gradual.

The honeycomb-like miniature lattices -- created using a nanoscale 3D printing technique called direct laser writing -- allow light to be bent at extremely sharp angles without allowing energy to escape. The device is sometimes called a photonic crystal, and its complex series of lattices incrementally steer the light beams around corners.

"Direct laser writing has the potential to become a flexible means for manufacturing next-generation computer devices," said Stephen Kuebler, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Central Florida.

Researchers are now working to perfect the device to navigate even tighter turns. As supercomputing power is expected to squeeze into smaller and smaller volumes, like smartphones, computer engineers must find ways to twist and turn light at sharper and sharper angles.

The development of the new honeycomb latticed device is detailed in the latest issue of the journal Optical Express.

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