A Snail vs a Ferrari

A focused electron beam (yellow) was used to study the optical properties of two plasmonic Resonators bridged by a layer of molecules that are 0.5 nm long. Credit: Tan Shu Fen, National University of Singapore.

Proposed experimental setup of photon-photon collider. Credit: O. J. Pike et al./Nature Photonics.

I loved this graphic symbolising the theories describing light and matter interactions. Credit: Oliver Pike, Imperial College London.

Ever wondered what is the average speed of a snail? Actually it varies a lot depending on species and ambient condition, reaching measured peaks of 0.8 kmh, but on the average it is around 0.04 kmh, that is 10,000 times slower than the best Ferrari.

Now, all this to say that researchers in Singapore have managed to develop a chip that works at a speed that is 10,000 times faster than the speed of today's chip. Its clock (the measure of switching speed) has reached 245THz ): compare this with my  fast Mac Chip that runs at 2.7GHz and you see a multiplying factor of 90,740!

We were told that 40GHz represented a sort of invisible boundary for electronics, that pushing the envelope further was not possible. The higher speed achieved in DWDM transmission on an optical fibre is obtained by inserting several channels each operating at 40GHz. 

What kind of rabbit researchers at the National University of Singapore and Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) managed to pull out of the cylinder?

The invention is based on “quantum plasmon tunnelling” a process that I already described in a previous post. It happens when electrons are oscillating at very high frequency (and 245 THz is a very high frequency) and their behaviour can be controlled through a beam of light.

The goal is to integrate this kind of chip inside a normal chip to increase the performances of special sensors or the modulation speed of signals over optical fibres.

This interplay between electrons and light has been studied for hundred years now, it all started with Einstein discovery of the underlying physical laws of the photovoltaic phenomenon (that was back in 1887). Since then big guns in physics have explored the relations between photons and electrons and just few days ago physicists the London Imperial College have found a way to convert photons into electrons, light into matter!

This was foreseen by two theoretical scientists, G. Breit and J. Wheeler,  back in 1937 and now in their paper they are proposing for the first time a way to perform an experiment to transform photons into electrons. That would prove the theoretical prediction made in 1934.

Amazing how theoretical physics is now leading to practical applications.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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