Corkscrew-shaped vortex lasers could keep Moore's Law kicking a little longer

Rendering of a vortex laser on a chip(Credit: University at Buffalo)

In recent years, concerns that Moore's Law is about to fall apart have been intensifying as engineers have just about squeezed the maximum amount of processing power possible out of each atom in intricately fabricated silicon chips. But a new study suggests that encoding information using corkscrew-shaped laser beams could help us keep pace with our ever-increasing data demands.

For several decades, we've been finding ways to consistently make computers and the components that power them ever faster, cheaper and smaller, as outlined by Moore's Law. Specifically, Moore's Law is more of an observation than an actual physical law that essentially states that the amount of computing power that can be squeezed into an integrated circuit doubles roughly every two years.

But many have argued this process can't continue forever as engineers will eventually run up against the limitations of physics itself. In other words, at some point it will become impossible to make chips and other components any smaller. With engineers now working with materials that are only one-atom thick, some say the end of Moore's law could be as little as a few years away.

A study published in the most recent issue of the journal Science finds that encoding data using laser beams shaped like a corkscrew or whirlpool could be the key to squeezing a little more efficiency out of our information technology infrastructure.

"To transfer more data while using less energy, we need to rethink what's inside these machines," says Liang Feng, PhD, assistant professor at the University at Buffalo's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the study's co-lead author.

Manipulating lasers to carry as much information as possible by splitting up light's different wavelengths to funnel more data down one pathway has been one means of keeping pace with the global explosion of demand for more bandwidth in today's information age. Now, these methods are also reaching their limits, prompting researchers to get creative.

Feng's research team used a light-manipulation technique called orbital angular momentum to shape the laser in a corkscrew pattern with a vortex at the center, kind of the laser equivalent of a funnel cloud or the vortex created by a draining bathtub, thereby moving data more quickly.

The key advancement in the team's work was its ability to shrink the vortex laser to a point where it could interface with existing computer components. The vortex twists of the laser beam allows it to carry ten times more data than that of conventional, linear lasers.

That single order-of-magnitude boost could be significant enough to stave off the end of Moore's law for a while longer, but more innovations will likely be required to keep over a century's worth of consistent computing improvements going strong.

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