Researchers are working relentlessly to make CPUs faster and more efficient. When computer chips were first invented, Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, predicted that the number of transistors in a computer chip needs to be doubled every two years. It became what is popularly known as Moore’s law.
As reported by Wired, researchers from Europe have attained a breakthrough that could solve the issue of increasing the number of transistors in a chip every two years as stated by Moore’s law. The new research could make the law obsolete altogether.
Research led by Erik Bakkers, a physicist at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands has led to the invention of silicon alloy nanowires that can emit light. The breakthrough could allow the development of photon-based circuits instead of the currently used electron-transistor model.
In simple words, the newly invented silicon alloy nanowires could allow data to be transmitted through photos instead of electrons. This would eliminate prevalent issues like an electron traffic jam, overheating and slow transmission speed arising due to cramming of a large number of transistors in a chip.
Silicon is a semiconductor that conducts electricity under specific conditions. It is this property that makes Silicon useful in designing circuits as the flow of current can be controlled by modifying the voltage supplied. Thus transistors made from the material work as digital switches without any moving parts.
However, the cubic crystal structure of Silicon that lends it this property allows free movement of electrons but not photons. Now, after 50 years, researchers have invented light-emitting silicon by changing its structure to enable free flow of photons through the material.
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Bakkers says that this is the first step towards optical computer chips as they still have to create a tiny laser from the Silicon alloy and then find a way to integrate it with electronic chips.
Since photons can transmit data at a much faster speed and across multiple channels as compared to electrons, we could see photonic circuits that can shuffle a large amount of data in a computer chip swiftly.
These photonic circuits could prove to be of great help in data-intensive applications where data needs to transferred around very quickly. For example, the photon-based circuits could find applications in self-driving cars for transmitting a large trove of data from a host of sensors in real-time.
You can read more about silicon alloy nanowires capable of transmitting photons in a research paper published in Nature.