Sympathetic Stupid

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Let There Be (More) Light

I like a true-blue Aussie science breakthrough, and this one's a good one (thanks, Lu!). It's all about speeding up fibre optics:

Scratches in glass break electronic traffic jam

One of the big limits on transmitting any signal over distance is the gradual 'fade' of the signal, or attenuation. To solve this, amplifiers or repeaters are used to grab the signal, clean it up, and rebroadcast it at full strength. There's no limit on how far a signal can travel if there are sufficient repeaters.

But for optical signals through fibre, this is a problem, because the cleaning up and rebroadcasting is always done with electronics. The light signals move so fast that this periodic amplifying of them is a serious bottleneck. Yeah, computers will get faster, but there's a limit to how fast you can do the processing, and it's still a lot slower than the speed of light. And that's where this breakthrough comes in.

A team at the Centre for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS) in Sydney have developed a piece of glass with a scratch in it. A "carefully engineered scratch", though, which makes it an optical signal regenerator. This puts them a step closer to 'all-optical' information transmission. They're talking about the difference between 40 Gb/s and 160 Gb/s, which sounds pretty impressive.

And the next step? An optical 'transistor', or switch, which would be the basis for all-optical (photonic, baby!) computers. And then we're talking serious speed. Imagine how many CPU cycles per second Windows can waste then!