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U of U Engineers Take Steps Toward Computing with Light

Photo Credit: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering
The overhead view of a new beamsplitter for silicon photonics chips that is the size of one-fiftieth the width of a human hair.

Engineers at the University of Utah are developing a device that could significantly increase the speed of computers.

Rajesh Menon is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Utah. He and small team of professors and students have created the smallest ultracompact beamsplitter to date. It’s a device that Menon hopes will help engineers replace computer chips that use electrons to transmit data, with chips that use light.

“If you use light, of course it can be a lot faster," he says. "And the second, very important advantage, is that it will consume a lot less power. So, this is a huge deal because if you think about power consumption from data centers and electronics and all this, can be a very large percentage of global power consumption.”

Menon also says, while this particular device is important, the real significance is the process they came up with to make it so much smaller.

“So, our vision, really, is to not to create one device but to create a whole library of devices," he says. "So, designers in the future or the near future can essentially pick and choose different devices, put them together in circuits very similar to what electronics designers do today.”

Because the devices are created using existing silicon fabricating techniques, they will also be economical. Menon expects the photonics devices to be seen in commercial data centers in as little as three years. 

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