Single-Molecule Switch Brings Super-Fast, Light-Based Computers Closer to Reality

Welcome to the age of super-efficient light-based computers.

6. 30. 16 by Arra Dianne Hifarva
 Engadget
Image by Engadget

The future is bright

In case you aren’t aware, light is faster than electricity, which means that computing with light would be preferable, as it will be far faster. Moreover, by decreasing the size of components, we are also able to increase computing speed.

So what if you combine the two?

Chinese researchers are making headway in doing just that, and to that end, they may have just vastly accelerated the development of light-based computers.

Researchers from the Peking University of Beijing created a switch that can be turned on or off by just a single photon. Ultimately, this paves the way for remarkably small systems (think: microscopic) that work using light. Indeed, the team asserts that this could be useful in systems like solar panels, light sensors, and could even be applicable in biomedical technology.

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Let there be light

To break down the work, molecular electronics involve the development of electronic circuits from just a single molecule. Previous studies utilized diarylethene and gold electrodes. Another study used graphene and carbon nanotubes electrodes. Both methods did not work.

Additionally, previous attempts with similar projects encountered problems such as the switch getting stuck in the “on” position and some types of light not being capable of activating the component. The researchers used different materials that allow the component to stabilize in any of the binary positions and that could actually be activated by light.

But perhaps most notably, earlier versions of the switch only had short self-lives, while this one can last up to a year. According to Ioan Bâldea of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, as told to Scientific American,  “In many cases, molecular junctions have lives of minutes, hours, or in fortunate cases days.” To that end, a system that can last a year is a vast, vast improvement.

While this component will not be available for commercial use just yet, this development is a major step forward in building microscopic-scale components for our computers and electronics.

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