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By forcing light to go through a smaller gap than ever before, researchers have paved the way for computers based on light instead of electronics.

Light is desirable for use in computing because it can carry a higher density of information and is much faster and more efficient than conventional electronics. However, light does not easily interact with itself, so while it can be used to move information quickly, it is not very good at processing information.

For example, light is currently used to transfer information over long distances, such as in transatlantic cables and fibre optics, which deliver fast internet. However, once the information reaches your computer, electronics are needed to convert and process it.

In order to use light for processing on microchips, several important obstacles need to be overcome. For example, light can be made to interact using particular materials, but only over relatively long distances. Now, however, a team from Imperial College London has made a significant step forward by reducing the distance over which light can interact by 10,000 fold.

This means that what previously would have taken centimetres to achieve can now be realised on the micrometre (one millionth of a metre) scale, bringing optical processing into the range of electrical transistors, which currently power personal computers. The results are published today in the journal Science.

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Category: Science