New organic material may boost Internet speed

March 16th, 2009 - 12:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 16 (IANS) Take two bricks out into a snowfall and place them side by side. In a few hours, the snowflakes will fill every vacant space between and around the bricks. The same phenomenon could hasten the day when the Internet works at superfast speeds.
Ivan Biaggio, physics professor at Lehigh University, says that using the same principle at the smallest of scales on an integrated optical circuit, scientists are hoping to achieve a major leap in velocity by designing circuits that rely solely on light-waves process data.

Biaggio is part of an international team of researchers that has developed an organic material with an unprecedented combination of high optical quality and strong ability to mediate light-light interaction.

He has engineered the integration of this material with silicon technology so it can be used in optical telecommunication devices.

The material, which is composed of small organic molecules, mimics the behaviour of the snowflakes covering the bricks when it is deposited into the slot, or gap, that separate silicon wave guides that control the propagation of light beams on an integrated optical circuit.

Just as the snowflakes, being tiny and mobile, fill every empty space between the two bricks, Biaggio says, the molecules completely and homogeneously fill the slot between the wave guides. The slots measure only tens of nanometres (nm) wide; one nm is a billionth of a metre, or a dozen carbon atoms wide.

“We have been able to make thin films by combining the molecules into a material that is perfectly transparent, flat, and free of any irregularities that would affect optical properties,” said Biaggio.

The slot between the wave guides is the region where most of the light guided by the silicon propagates. By filling the slot, say Biaggio and his collaborators, the molecules add an ultra-fast all-optical switching capability to silicon circuitry, creating a new ability to perform the light-to-light interactions necessary for data processing in all-optical networks.

The nanophotonic device obtained in this way, says the group, has demonstrated the best all-optical demultiplexing rate yet recorded for a silicon-organic-hybrid device.

Multiplexing is the process by which multiple signals or data streams are combined and transmitted on a single channel, thus saving expensive bandwidth. Demultiplexing is the reverse process, said a Lehigh release.

A description of this material was published on the Nature Photonics website.

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