MIT researchers have published research regarding a breakthrough that could speed the way to zippy new computers that rely on photonic chips that use light beams rather than electrons to work.

The big advance is that photonic chips could now be built on the standard silicon material used for today’s computing innards, according to MIT. The arrival of photonic computers could help speed traffic across fiber-optic networks by eliminating a conversion process.

MIT’s "diode for light" is described in a paper – "On-chip optical isolation in monolithically integrated non-reciprocal optical resonators"  -- published Nov. 13 in the journal Nature Photonics. This device, made from a transparent and magnetic material called garnet, would integrate functionality onto a chip that currently is handled in a separate device.

"It simplifies making an all-optical chip" and makes it easier to commercialize, says Caroline Ross, the Toyota Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, who conducted the research with Lionel Kimerling, the Thomas Lord Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, and former students Lei Bi and Juejun Hu.  "The design of the circuit can be produced "just like an integrated-circuit person can design a whole microprocessor. Now, you can do an integrated optical circuit,"she said in a statement.

The National Science Foundation and Intel funded the research.

MIT’s work is remindful of research out of CalTech and the University of California at San Diego, which have developed a silicon-based optical waveguide that could prove to be an instrumental component in building low-cost, all-optical networks in the future. Like MIT’s device, this technology resembles an electrical diode in that it will allow light to move in one direction while blocking any light from moving in the opposite direction.

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