The advancement of computer and electronics technology is inhibited in part by the methods used to transmit information in these systems. Currently, data transfer in a computer, for example, is accomplished through the transmission of electrons over a conductive wire such as copper.
But what if a faster method that used less power and memory capacity was implemented? Many experts believe that the use of quantum optics, where light particles are used to transmit information faster and with less energy requirements than electrons, may hold the key for creating our next generation of electronics and computers.
Now, a team of researchers from RIT and the University of Washington is attempting to build the first active quantum optic device for use on traditional electronic chips. The technology has the potential to greatly increase the functionality of quantum communication and information processing systems.
“Quantum optics deals with the manipulation of light at the particle level and the use of these particles, known as photons, to dramatically improve information processing capabilities,” explains Stefan Preble, assistant professor of microsystems engineering at RIT.
Preble notes that, historically, quantum optic devices have been implemented using large-scale, power hungry, bulk components. However, to become commercially viable, quantum technologies will need to be miniaturized in order to dramatically improve reliability and reduce power requirements.
A functionality that will be required on a quantum information chip to accomplish miniaturization is a single photon wavelength converter. Typically hundreds of millions of light particles, using a tremendous amount of energy, are needed to change the wavelength of just a single photon.
Preble’s team will utilize a newly discovered method that can change a single photon’s wavelength through the use of a very low power electric signal. Preble’s article detailing the first demonstration of this method was featured on the May 2007 cover of Nature Photonics.
“Low power wavelength conversion allows us to build workable quantum optic chips that can be tested and assessed both by our research team and the larger scientific community,” adds Preble. “The potential for the process and its impact on the development of quantum optics applications is considerable.”
The project is being funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation.