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The name of the project -- "photonic neuron" -- was catchy enough, but what really caught Mitchell Nahmias' attention was the opportunity to combine his interests in engineering and neuroscience.

Nahmias became one of seven Princeton undergraduate students to participate in a research collaboration between the University and Lockheed Martin, the aerospace and defense technology corporation, to produce fiber-optic-based computational devices that work similarly to neurons, but are a billion times faster.

"I'm an electrical engineering major, but I really like biology and cognitive science," said Nahmias, a member of the class of 2012. "This is a cool project, a really interesting confluence of a bunch of fields."

If the project is successful, the new technology could allow for computer circuits that are capable of making nearly instantaneous calculations in life-or-death situations, such as locating a terrorist from a radio signal or deciding whether to eject a fighter pilot from a jet. It might also allow speedy processing of huge amounts of data, such as the video signals that currently guide the movements of robotic cars or scans of genetic data for clues to fighting diseases.

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Category: Science