Right now there are an untold number of electrons coursing through our computers to transmit, store, and process signals. While these electrons do move pretty fast, they are no way near the speed of light, which is part of the reason why researchers have been working on photonic computers with optical processors. Researchers at Rice University have recently developed a material capable of four-wave mixing that could one day be used within optical processors.
An important characteristic of electromagnetic waves, such as light, is that they generally do not interact with each other; crossing beams of light does not change their properties. This can make working with light difficult, because one signal cannot affect another, at least outside of a nonlinear material. Four-wave missing is a phenomenon that can occur within nonlinear materials whereby two optical input signals can interact and produce two different output signals. The researchers designed a new material made of carefully arranged gold nanodisks that will absorb incoming light and great intense electric fields. These fields are so intense that they increase the nonlinearity of the material to the point of making it the most efficient four-wave mixing device.
While the developed material is of course important, the true value of this research will likely come from how it is applied to other materials. Different materials will likely express different optical properties, allowing for materials tailored to their purposes.
Source: Rice University