Light-powered chip smashing records

A new computer chip, which uses light instead of electronic signals to process information, could lead to high security, energy-efficient internet links more than 1,000 times faster than today’s networks.

This “photonic chip” uses special glass, photonic crystals, to bend light and slow it down. The slower the light travels, the more efficiently the chip can operate—and the smaller and more energy efficient the resulting devices can be.

Ben Eggleton's photonic chip could lead to internet speeds 1,000 times faster than the national broadband network.
Ben Eggleton’s photonic chip could lead to internet speeds 1,000 times faster than the national broadband network.

Developed by Prof Ben Eggleton and his team at the Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS) at the University of Sydney, the same technology could be used to build quantum computers.

“If you can generate individual photons of light, you can use these quantum states to build completely quantum-secure communications networks, fundamentally secure to eavesdropping,” Ben says.

There are already companies in Australia commercialising quantum security, coding sensitive information defence and banking based on his work.

Ben reckons the chip could be used in high speed communications in three to five years. The chip also has applications in astronomy, where Ben’s science career began, and could be used in the Square Kilometre Array to filter microwave signals from space.

In 2010, Ben’s team set world speed record for optical switching in what he calls a “hero experiment”, designed to highlight the capabilities and feasibility of this new technology.

Working with teams at the Australian National University node of CUDOS and in Denmark, they constructed a terabit-per-second Ethernet link—that’s 1,000 times faster than the National Broadband Network currently being constructed across Australia.

The basic science underpinning this technology has won Ben the 2011 Australian Institute of Physics Walter Boas Medal for research excellence.

For more information:
ARC Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS)
University of Sydney School of Physics
Ben Eggleton
+61 2 9351 3604