Very Thin Lasers Could Speed Computers

Slimmer vertical lasers could link microchips with light

3 min read
A photonic crystal reflector made from a patterned piece of silicon.
Holy Mirrors! Photonic crystal reflectors are made from a patterned piece of silicon, to keep the profile of a new kind of laser slim.
Image: Dr. Hongjun Yang

1 August 2012—A new type of ultrasmall laser could bring optical communications onto computer chips, breaking a bottleneck that limits computing speed.

The laser is small enough to allow an array of hundreds of them to be placed on a chip, the researchers who devised it say in a July online paper for Nature Photonics. “Once you make it so flat, thin, on-chip integration becomes very simple,” says Zhenqiang Ma, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Data transfer between processors is limited by the capacity of copper wires to carry signals, but this can be overcome by using beams of light, just as optical fiber is being used to replace copper cables in the telephone system.

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The Transistor at 75

The past, present, and future of the modern world’s most important invention

2 min read
A photo of a birthday cake with 75 written on it.
Lisa Sheehan

Seventy-five years is a long time. It’s so long that most of us don’t remember a time before the transistor, and long enough for many engineers to have devoted entire careers to its use and development. In honor of this most important of technological achievements, this issue’s package of articles explores the transistor’s historical journey and potential future.

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