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Nanoholes Permit Remarkable Light Transmission

Passing a camel through a needle's eye--with big implications for light-emitting devices

3 min read

Suppose you're commanding an army of archers and launching an attack against an enemy force separated from you by a huge mesh screen. Your army's wobbling arrows all get stuck in the screen or bounce off it. But suppose something could influence the mesh of that screen so that all the arrows passed through it, even if the arrows' wobble is much greater than the size of the holes in the mesh.

Something very much like that is being accomplished in the new field of subwavelength nanostructures. Researchers are finding ways to send light through metal films perforated by holes with diameters much smaller than the wavelength of the light. The classical rules of optics say that this is impossible, but the tricks being developed, as well as a growing understanding of what makes the tricks work, could lead to more efficient solid-state lasers, LEDs, and other electronic components.

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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.


If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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