February 17, 2009 Internet speeds of a terabit per second have come one step closer with scientists at the University of Sydney developing a photonic integrated circuit (PIC) that can not only increase internet speeds by 60 times, but can also act as traffic monitors to keep the speed high and error free.

ARC Federation Fellow Professor Ben Eggleton realized his team had “effectively unblocked the bottleneck of Internet traffic” when they first announced the device in July 2008. The PIC is a scratched piece of glass, which achieves its terabit per second capacity by using “the 'scratch' as a guide or a switching path for information - kind of like when trains are switched from one track to another - except this switch takes only one picosecond to change tracks. This means that in one second the switch is turning on and off about one million million times.” Says Eggleton. What the team didn’t realize at the time was that the chip not only allows for high rates of data transmission but that it also monitors the integrity of that transmission – a critical element that keeps the traffic flowing.

Currently complicated electronic measuring instruments that cost up to one million dollars are used in scientific research, but Eggleton claims these can be replaced by one photonic chip, which will cost around AUD$100 (USD$66 at time of publication) and have a life span of about ten years. The chip, which is the size of a thumbnail, also uses far less power than electronics making it far more energy efficient.

Eggleton and his research team’s paper, "Photonic-chip-based radio-frequency spectrum analyser with terahertz bandwith", was published in Nature Photonics on 15 February 2009.

Darren Quick