Lasers Could Make Computers 1 Million Times Faster

An artist’s rendering shows polarized light interacting with the honeycomb lattice. Credit: Stephen Alvey, Michigan Engineering
A billion operations per second isn’t cool. Know what’s cool? A million billion operations per second. That’s the promise of a new computing technique that uses laser-light pulses to make a prototype of the fundamental unit of computing, called a bit, that could switch between its on and off, or „1“ and „0“ states, 1 quadrillion times per second. That’s about 1 million times faster than the bits in modern computers.

By Rafi Letzter |

Conventional computers (everything from your calculator to the smartphone or laptop you’re using to read this) think in terms of 1s and 0s. Everything they do, from solving math problems, to representing the world of a video game, amounts to a very elaborate collection of 1-or-0, yes-or-no operations. And a typical computer in 2018 can use silicon bits to perform more or less 1 billion of those operations per second. [Science Fact or Fiction? The Plausibility of 10 Sci-Fi Concepts]

In this experiment, the researchers pulsed infrared laser light on honeycomb-shaped lattices of tungsten and selenium, allowing the silicon chip to switch from „1“ to „0“ states just like a normal computer processor — only a million times faster, according to the study, which was published in Nature on May 2.

That’s a trick of how electrons behave in that honeycomb lattice.

In most molecules, the electrons in orbit around them can jump into several different quantum states, or or „psuedospins,“ when they get excited. A good way to imagine these states is as different, looping racetracks around the molecule itself. (Researchers call these tracks „valleys,“ and the manipulation of these spins „valleytronics.“)

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