As with many pairs of technologies, there are advantages and disadvantages to electronics and fiber optics, as optics can achieve great bandwidths but electronics can be produce at very small scales. Plasmonics could potentially grant the best of both worlds, but are challenging to produce, as they require special equipment. Researchers at the University of Utah however have managed to print multiple plasmonic structures using an inkjet printer.
Plasmons are a quasiparticle formed when a metal's electrons are coupled with a photon. This coupling allows the electron to carry the information of the photon over a wire, instead of an optical cable. Not all metals allow plasmons to form though, but silver and gold are two of the best at it, so the researchers put two, special ink cartridges into the printer. One contained a carbon ink and the other a silver ink, and by varying the amount of silver and carbon, the researchers could control the conductivity of the printed devices.
As the only limit on the printed devices is what the $60 printer can actually print, we could see various devices come from this research. Already the researchers could see it being applied to improve wireless data, by enabling greater speeds, or by printing magnetic materials that are more compact. The latter application though is likely more than five years away though.
Source: University of Utah