The Transistor Laser

Ultrafast transistors that output optical and electrical signals open new computing frontier

12 min read

For years we've been hearing about all the fantastic things computers will be able to do once they process data with light instead of electricity. The mysteries of the universe will be unlocked. A golden age of limitless computing power and bandwidth will usher in a techno-utopia.Don't believe the hype.

Setting aside the question of whether an all-optical processor would even be desirable, optical computing schemes lack the photonic equivalent of the most fundamental computing element, the transistor. That device--first demonstrated in 1947, when John Bardeen and Walter H. Brattain stuck two cat-whisker wires onto a germanium base and showed power gain from one wire, called the emitter, to the other, called the collector--spawned the US $300-billion-per-year semiconductor industry. The transistor makes possible our digital lifestyle: cellphones and PCs, digital cameras and MP3 players, medical imaging systems and set-top boxes, supercomputers and the Internet, and more.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
Vertical
A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar
DarkBlue1

You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

Keep Reading ↓Show less
{"imageShortcodeIds":["31996907"]}