Engineers have created a switch, one of the most fundamental components of computing, using optical rather than electronic components. The advancement could help in pursuing ultrafast all-optical signal processing and computing.
Optics has the potential to revolutionize computing by allowing it to do more at faster speeds and with less power. However, one of the significant limitations of optics-based systems is that they still require electronics-based transistors to process data efficiently. The all-optical switch could eventually enable photon-based data processing.
The all-optical signal processing breakthrough depends on the material (lithium niobate) used by the team and how they used it.
Light can be contained in a small space using integrated photonic devices based on lithium niobate. The greater the light intensity with the same amount of power, the smaller the space. As a result, the light pulses carrying information through such an optical system may have a more robust nonlinear response than would otherwise be possible.
The engineers also restricted the light in time. They essentially reduced the duration of light pulses. They used a specific design to keep the pulses short as they propagated through the device, resulting in each pulse having a higher peak power. The combined effect of these two tactics is the spatiotemporal confinement of light.