If light can somehow be integrated into circuits, then the processing of microprocessors would improve. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley might get us closer to integrating nanolasers with electronics. They figured out how to grow nanolasers on silicon, using a technique commonly used to create light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and have been trying to make chips out of a mix of semiconductor materials, so silicon can transmit light beams better.
However, typically lasers and electronics are a physical misfit. One of the researchers, Roger Chen, explained in a statement: “Growing III-V semiconductor films on silicon are like forcing two incongruent puzzle pieces together. It can be done, but the material gets damaged in the process.”
That’s why the researchers used nanopillars made from indium gallium arsenide on silicon, and created cylinders that can make laser light beams. When an external light beams shines on the nanopillars, it turns it into nanolasers. In the real-world, the nanolasers would have to produce their own light beams.
UC Berkeley professor Connie Chang-Hasnain said in a statement: “Today’s massive silicon electronics infrastructure is extremely difficult to change for both economic and technological reasons, so compatibility with silicon fabrication is critical.”
The nanolasers were grown in a cool temperature, giving it a leg up from other methods that require hotter temperatures that end up ruining the circuits.
Electronics with light beams of nanolasers have the potential to improve how data is communicated in microprocessors. Besides speeding up computing power, the technique might bring about better sensors that use these chips. It will be interesting to see if light beams produced by nanolasers start to replace electronic signals.
But New Scientist points out: “Other key challenges that remain include transferring light from the nanolasers to a light guide in the chip, and modulating the light.”
But meshing nanolasers with silicon isn’t just a pipe dream it’s already been done in the electronics industry. My SP colleague Andrew Nusca previously wrote about Intel’s prototype of the world’s first silicon-based optical data connection with integrated nanolasers. An optical link would push data much faster than copper cables.