Light technology breakthrough to pave way for super-fast computers

University researchers have uncovered a way to manipulate glass that could help radically speed up computer data transfer and processing times by drawing on the power of light.

The material could potentially allow computers to transfer information using light and, in turn, speed up system processing speeds, researchers from the University of Surrey, University of Cambridge and the University of Southampton have announced.

Using a process called ion doping, the researchers were able to alter the electronic properties of amorphous chalcogenides, a glass-like material used in CDs and DVDs, so light could be used to bring together different computing functions into one component to create all-optical systems.

This has positive implications for the IT industry, as computer systems currently rely on electrical signals to pass on information, whereas the internet uses optical systems to transfer information at the speed of light.

When a piece of information is sent over the internet using light, it has to be converted to an electrical signal once it reaches a computer, which slows the processing and delivery of it.

Thanks to the work of the researchers, the need to transform the light signal into an electrical one could be eradicated, resulting in consistently higher transfer speeds.

Dr Richard Curry, project leader from the University of Surrey, said it's hoped the technology could become commonly used in computers within the next decade.

"The challenge is to find a single material that can effectively use and control light to carry information around a computer. Much like how the web uses light to deliver information, we want to use light to both deliver and process computer data.

"This has eluded researchers for decades, but now we have shown how a widely used glass can be manipulated to conduct negative electrons, as well as positive charges, creating what are known as pn-junction' devices.

"This should enable the material to act as a light source, a light guide and a light detector something that can carry and interpret optical information.

"In doing so, this could transform the computers of tomorrow, allowing them to effectively process information at much faster speeds," he added.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.