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Turning Information Into Energy

Japanese physicists turn Brownian motion—plus plenty of external energy—into work

3 min read
Sputtering Spinner: Scientists in Japan demonstrated the conversion of information into energy by using the Brownian motion, the random jiggles of molecules, to cause a pair of particles to rotate clockwise.

16 November 2010—Energy scavenging is all the rage these days. Sensors power themselves with harvested radio-frequency radiation, and piezoelectric roadbeds are in development to turn highway rumblings into electricity for traffic signals and streetlights. Now Japanese physicists claim to have pushed this trend to a thermodynamic extreme by harvesting the ubiquitous random vibrations known as Brownian motion. The key to doing this, they explain in this week’s issue of the journal Nature Physics, is to first gather a few bits of information.

Chuo University physicist Shoichi Toyabe and University of Tokyo physicist Masaki Sano, along with three colleagues, predict that their experimental system could produce smart devices that could power themselves using Brownian motion—the low-quality energy left over by the inexorable flow toward increasing entropy that is enshrined in the second law of thermodynamics. Experts in microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS, say it’s a worthy goal but see the Japanese experiment, at best, as a proof of principle.

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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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