The Digital Revolution was built on a deep foundation of silicon semiconductors. Integrated circuits, which have allowed humans to create everything from smartphones to the space shuttle, are all built in these tiny wafers of semiconductor material.
By passing electrical signals at lightning-fast speeds through silicon semiconductors, we’ve been able to achieve some pretty remarkable milestones in computing.
As our electronics have grown faster and more complex, however, the limitations of these devices have become apparent.
Electrical signals can only travel through a silicon substrate so fast. Lasers, on the other hand, can travel much faster. The trouble is that scientists have never been able to integrate lasers into a silicon substrate.
Thanks to a team of researchers in the UK, that’s about to change.
In a paper published in Nature Photonics, the researchers provided a detailed explanation of method they used to integrate a laser with a 1300nm wavelength directly into a silicon substrate.
The laser is capable of operating at temperatures of up to 120°C and has an estimated lifespan of about 11 years.
This breakthrough could allow scientists to create a whole new generation of microprocessors that use photonic circuits to accomplish computing tasks at unprecedented speeds.
The researchers who accomplished this remarkable feat are understandably pretty excited.
“Realizing electrically-pumped lasers based on Si substrates is a fundamental step towards silicon photonics,” said contributing author Peter Smowton. “The precise outcomes of such a step are impossible to predict in their entirety, but it will clearly transform computing and the digital economy, revolutionize healthcare through patient monitoring, and provide a step-change in energy efficiency.”
It might be years before we see the widespread use of photonics in integrated circuits, but it sure does give us something to look forward to.