QUB’s £6m bid to create super-fast computers
Scientists from Queen’s University in Belfast are taking part in a £6 million research programme to develop technology which will dramatically increase the speed at which computers process data.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is funding Queen’s University and Imperial College London to establish a world-leading research programme on the fundamental science of so-called nanoplasmonic devices.
The key components of these are tiny nanoscale metal structures — more than 100 times smaller than the width of a human hair — that guide and direct light.
The structures are tailor-made to interact with light in an unusual and highly controlled way. This means they could one day be used to build new kinds of super high-speed ‘optical computers’ — so named because they would process information using light signals instead of the electric currents used by today’s computers.
At present, the speed with which computers process information is limited by the time it takes for the information to be transferred between electronic components. Currently this information is transferred using nanoscale metallic wires that transmit the signals as an electric current.
To speed up the process, scientists at Queen’s and Imperial hope to develop a way of sending the signals along the same wires in the form of light.
In order to achieve this they are developing a raft of new metallic devices, including tiny nanoscale sources of light, nanoscale waveguides to guide light along a desired route, and nanoscale detectors to pick up the light signals.
Similar approaches may also help in the development of devices for faster internet services.
Professor Anatoly Zayats from Queen’s University’s Centre for Nanostructured Media, who leads the project, said: “This is basic research into how light interacts with matter on the nanoscale.
“But we will work together with, and listen to, our industrial partners to direct research in the direction that hopefully will lead to new improved products and services that everyone can buy from the shelf.”
The project is also being supported by global firms including INTEL, Seagate, Ericsson, Oxonica, IMEC and the National Physics Laboratory.