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New Optical Switch Breaks Records and Barriers

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 08:28AM

Electronics have been serving us well for decades, but their time is limited as the technology approaches barriers that it simply will not be able to overcome. Among the possible replacement technologies are photonics that will wield light particles like how electronics use electrons. Researchers at Vanderbilt University, the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and Los Alamos National Laboratory have recently built an optical switch that could bring photonics much closer to reality.

Optical switches have been produced before and typically can switch on and off billions of times a second. The new switch though operates a thousand times faster at terahertz speeds. They are also smaller than previous switches at just 200 nm in diameter. The researchers achieved this by using vanadium dioxide, which is a curious material that can switch between an opaque metallic phase and transparent semiconductor phase trillions of times a second. This switching is being triggered with electrons instead of lasers, as has been done in the past, and this change has had the result of reducing energy requirements.

Just as the smaller size and greater speed can help bring this technology to us sooner, so too can the facts that it is compatible with current integrated circuit technology and that it can work with visible and near-infrared light. These parts of the spectrum are ideal for applications in telecommunications.

Source: Vanderbilt University

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