Energy & Environment

New Chip Transfers Data Using Light at Record-Breaking Speed

New Chip Transfers Data Using Light at Record-Breaking Speed

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A chip that could revolutionize fiber-optic networks has been manufactured by researchers from ETH Zurich. The monolithic chip that quickly transmits data using light without losing signal quality will increase the speed of data in fiber-optic networks.

In a first, researchers were able to bring together electronic and light-based elements on the same chip, which is a technical breakthrough since, currently, these elements have to be manufactured on separate chips and connected with wires afterward.


Rising demand for fiber-optic networks call for new solutions

Zurich is one such city that uses fiber-optic networks to deliver high-speed internet, TV, and other streaming services; however, by the end of this decade, these optical communication networks may reach their limits, and as Juerg Leuthold, ETH Professor of Photonics and Communications, said, "The rising demand will call for new solutions. The key to this paradigm shift lies in combining electronic and photonic elements on a single chip." And that was what the researchers did indeed.

The scientists wrote, "Now electronic signals are converted into light signals using separate chips – this is how we lose a significant amount of signal quality. This is what limits the speed of data transmission with the help of light.

"Therefore, we started with the development of a modulator – a component on a chip that generates light of a given intensity, converting electrical signals into light waves. The modulator size is very small in order to avoid loss of quality and intensity during the conversion process."

How does it work?

The researchers were able to produce small monolithic circuits that have a photonic and an electronic layer, and in order to convert electrical signals to even faster optical ones, the photonic layer was made to contain a plasma intensity modulator that is based on metal structures that direct light to achieve high data rates.

Transferring data at a record-breaking speed of 100 gigabits per second

The four input signals with lowers speeds are combined and amplified to form a high-speed electrical signal. Researchers were able to transfer data at a record-breaking speed of 100 gigabits per second using the novel chip in a first.

Leuthold stated that their preliminary tests indicate that these technologies can be connected to create the fastest compact chips. "We're convinced that this solution can also pave the way for faster data transmission in optical communication networks of the future."

The study was published in the journal Nature Electronics.

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