Feature stories | Technology & innovation

Russian scientists blaze their own trail to light-based computing

6 Mar '17
Developing a photonic computer, a technology that would retire the entire concept of silicon-based computing, making it way faster than what we have imagined so far, is a phrase du jour across the world’s leading research labs. Here’s just a fraction of what Russian developers have come up with to make the dream a next day reality.

Siberian light

At the Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radio Electronics (TUSUR), researchers have developed new technology that could make it possible to build computers which use light to transmit a signal rather than electricity.

“Studies being conducted at TUSUR are bringing scientists closer to creating compact, very small and non-volatile components to control light beams, which could then be used to process and transmit data in photonic computers with a reduced loss of energy and at much higher speeds than it is possible with current electronics,” the developers claim.

The project results stemmed from broader research, in which the scientists were figuring how to control light beams in a crystal. A method was developed, enabling the team to use laser technology to ‘save’ information in lithium niobate crystals.

At the core of the innovative approach was a combination of what’s known as the beam refraction effect inside a crystal at a certain angle in certain conditions and the electrical field effect in the crystal.

The approach enabled the researchers to obtain crystals with a photonic structure ‘built’ by the light, a network of waveguides a few microns each in diameter, which were then used to transmit a light signal.

“Such crystals with waveguide optical structures ‘saved’ inside could be likened to printed circuit boards that are currently used in electronics,” the developers said.

A small ball from Moscow

Moscow researchers and their international colleagues have also contributed to the overall effort. The team was led by Michael Tribelsky, a physicist representing the Moscow Lomonosov State University (MSU) and the Moscow State University of IT, Radio Engineering and Electronics (MIREA), and scientists from France and Spain also entered the fray.

They have come up with a probable prototype of a structural component of what is expected to emerge in the future as a photonic computer.

The collaborative team is said to have created a small dielectric sphere, a silicon ball two centimeters in diameter, which has a high refractive index and low losses.

Computers whose architecture is built around original technologies are reaching the limits of their capabilities, scientists across the world believe. As an alternative capable of increasing the speed of processors, they suggest ultra-capacity optical technologies which could replace electronic circuits. To achieve the goal, they began looking for materials which could be handled at scales below emission wavelength.

They would from time to time run into certain problems, including losses, as well as scattering of electromagnetic emission small objects are exposed to. Mr. Tribelsky and his international partners are reported to have solved these problems.

The Russian scientist first offered his theoretical solution as far back as 1984, but it has taken researchers more than 30 years to bring theory into practice.
Oleg Kouzbit, managing editor: “I’m glad you join us here and take The Bridge walk for Marchmont’s weekly review of the Russian regions’ innovative present and future. Stay close and you’ll find out more of how Russia is bridging the existing gap between its researchers and businesses.”
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