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February 14, 2013

New 'Slow Light' Technology Could Bring Ultra-Fast Terahertz Wireless Communications and Optical Computing

By Michael Guta, TMCnet Contributing Writer

When the ENIAC -- Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer -- was created, it was a marvel for its day, and computer engineers have been trying make each successive generation faster than the previous one. To understand how far we have come here are some eye-opening stats about the ENIAC. It weighed in a little more than 30 short tons or around 60,000 pounds, cost $500,000 and adjusting for inflation that is more than $6,000,000 and it performed 385 multiplication operations per second. An Intel (News - Alert) Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition 3960X (Hex core) processor running at 3.33 GHz can perform 177,730 MIPS or million instructions per second, and there are supercomputers with much faster computing capability than that. Although we have come very far, it is not enough for a society that is creating more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each and every single day.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have demonstrated switching on and off “slow light” at a very fast rate in special metamaterials at room temperature. The ability to perform this task opens new possibilities for increasing the speed of wireless telecommunications and all-optical computing. It will be possible to design new chip-scale ultrafast devices with terahertz capability.

Slow light is light in which the speed has been reduced from the standard of 299,792,458 meters per second or 186282.39 miles per second by using metamaterials to control the speed of the photons. The ability to control the speed will let designers have an orderly flow of traffic in telecommunications networks, which will increase the speed significantly.

Another application for this technology is for an all-optical computing. The current technology used for computer chips (semiconductors) is reaching their physical limitations. An all-optical system can decrease the size of current chips and increase the speed. If the research continues and entangled photon pairs are created it could lead to quantum computing.

Quantum (News - Alert) computing which is considered the Holy Grail of computing since scientists were challenged by physicist Richard Feynman in 1981is becoming a reality. The difficulty in the past was researchers could not get particles to behave, and being able to slow light and control it could be the answer.

Organizations are creating terabytes or even petabytes of information, and they have to analyze the data to create better product and services while assessing sentiment analysis. Time is of the essence and a single minute could cost a company millions of dollars in an industry where executions are measured in nanoseconds. That is why speed is being sought after by everyone.

Just as the Intel process seemed incredible compared to the ENIAC, quantum computers will seem infinitely more amazing. The qubit which is the unit of information on a quantum computer can be 1 and 0 at once meaning it can perform multiple functions at the same time instead of one at a time. According to IBM (News - Alert) scientists a 250-qubit system will have more information than there are atoms in our known universe and that indeed is very far from the ENIAC.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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