Computing at the Speed of Light

Computing at speed of light

Mohammed Hassan, associate professor at the University of Arizona College of Science, leads international research demonstrating a way to register the on/off switching of laser signals at speeds on the scale of attoseconds, or quintillionths of a second.

The breakthrough paves the way for previously unattainable data transfers, including ultra-distance communications, such as from Earth into deep space.

Nearly all computers and electronics in use today still rely on semiconductor-based transistors, a 1940s innovation that translates electrical signals into “on or off” binary data. Advancing computing power has overwhelmingly focused on increasing the rate of signaling, achieving speeds at the scale of trillionths of a second in today’s most advanced systems.

However, the electricity in these systems creates heat in various ways, requiring cooling strategies like fans or liquid cooling systems and establishing a theoretical ceiling to performance. At some point, the energy required for cooling the system exceeds the energy it can support.

As an alternative to electricity, alloptical signaling offers a way around the heat problem. It also enables data transfer a million times faster. But registering the signals to translate them into binary data was an unsolved challenge.

The research team devised a way to log the on/off state of laser signals at unprecedented speeds with fused silica. This special form of silicon dioxide can change from being reflective to being nearly transparent – corresponding to the on/off state of computing data – almost instantaneously.


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