Transistor Made to Run on Protons

Squid shell is the secret ingredient in a device that modulates a proton current

3 min read

21 September 2011—It turns out the transistor has a positive side. A team at the University of Washington, in Seattle, has created the first solid-state transistor that controls the flow of protons instead of electrons. The device could help pave the way for gadgets that can interface at a molecular level with living systems, since biology commonly employs protons and ions to perform work and transmit information.

Unlike the lightweight electron, which is easily knocked off atoms and can flow freely through a wide variety of metals and semiconductors, the proton has proved far more difficult to harness. Researchers interested in creating a device that can modulate the flow of protons or heavier ions typically rely on water, creating microfluidic channels where they can manipulate dissolved ions.

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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.

Avicena

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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