Polaritons to the Rescue

As we reach the smallest units known to physics, it’s becoming more apparent than ever: Moore’s Law can’t hold strong forever. But although it seems we are exhausting the extent to which we can miniaturize processors (as far as we know now), it seems Moore’s Law won’t be scrapped for good…at least not entirely.

Researchers the world over are coming up with different approaches to pack more power and speed into the smallest particles. And a new study from the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with researchers from Mexico and Greece, is adding to the arsenal. Researchers found a way to unite electricity and light using a miniature electro-optical switch that creates and manipulates liquid light—as in similar glowing fluids like those in glow sticks.

“We’re reaching the limits of how small we can make transistors, and electronics based on liquid light could be a way of increasing the power and efficiency of the electronics we rely on,” says study co-author Dr. Hamid Ohadi from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory.

Currently, we are using a mixture of both electricity and fiber optics to transmit data: processing information is done using electrical charges on semiconductor chips, and a separate transmission line is used to transmit this information using optical cables (data transmission using light).

Electricity has to be converted first to light before it can run through optical cables—and this process takes time. The new device bridges the gap between electricity and light—using the mechanisms of a hybrid particle called a polariton. This cuts the electro-optical conversion time down, making data transmission even faster.

Watch this totally badass video explaining the mechanism behind a polariton.

“The polariton switch unifies the best properties of electronics and optics into one tiny device that can deliver at very high speeds while using minimal amounts of power,” says lead author Dr. Alexander Dreismann, also from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory.

Liquid Light In Place of Electrons

The researchers put multiple polaritons within the same space, which is known to induce condensation into a light-matter fluid that could spin clockwise (spin-up) or counterclockwise (spin-down). It is this polariton fluid’s light emission that can be toggled between spinning up or down, and serve as something like a binary code that could be sent through the optical fibers as data.

But like most controlled experiments in quantum physics, this prototype was done in cryogenic temperatures, where particles can be better stabilized since they tend to go into some sugar-like high when exposed to heat. The researchers are, however, confident in making this mechanism work at room temperature and plan to make it available for commercial use and integration with existing technology, specifically signal processing and information technology.

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