Optical Switch – 1000x Faster Than Electronic Transistors

At 1 trillion operations per second, a new optical switch is 100 to 1,000 times faster than today’s leading commercial electronic transistors. The research could lead to a new generation of computers that run on light rather than electricity.

The new device has a 35-nanometer-wide organic semiconductor polymer film sandwiched between two highly reflective mirrors. The result is a microscopic cavity designed to trap incoming light for as long as possible to help it coupled with the cavity’s material.

A bright pump laser and a weak seed laser operate the optical switch. When the pump laser shines on the microcavity, its photons can strongly couple with excitons (electrons bound to their positively charged counterparts, holes) within the material of the cavity. It can result in the formation of exciton-polaritons, which are short-lived quasiparticles.

The cluster of exciton-polaritons can form Bose-Einstein condensates, which are collections of particles that behave like atoms. The seed beam’s light can switch this condensate between two measurable states, zero and one. On average, the new device can switch with as little as one input photon.

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