Physics

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

Corkscrew-shaped vortex lasers...
Rendering of a vortex laser on a chip
Rendering of a vortex laser on a chip
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Rendering of a vortex laser on a chip
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Rendering of a vortex laser on a chip

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.

Source: University of Buffalo

5 comments
Malatrope
We haven't yet delved very deeply into 3D processing. A computing plane a few atoms thick can be a computing <i>block</i> consisting of hundreds of thousands of such planes before you would even notice the difference physically. The research needed, as has been the case for a long time, is in thermal control and in reliability/longevity of circuitry. A good way to do self-healing or graceful degradation could be the breakthrough to keep Moore's Law going for another hundred years.
splatman
Is this story about information transfer (bandwidth, how fast I can transmit data from point A to point B) or data storage (bit density on a chip, how many gigabytes of memory I can fit on a chip)? They are two very different things, and Moore's law - more correctly stated as the number of transistors on a chip - applies only to the latter.
ChrisWalker
all i can think of is Jupiter and the vortex it has called the red eye storm and think to myself when it comes to processing power and memory based on density bigger is better how dense is jupiter core? how much information can be exchanged with the vortex red eye storm and the clouds themselves based on this articles assumption of information encoded in light wave length and atomic particles? oh... "2001 a space odyssey" and the "box" shaped like a computer tower...
habakak
Splatman....the article is about neither. And neither is Moore's Law (which is stated in the article). Moore's Law states that the number of integrated circuits on a chip will roughly double in 2 years. It's about the PROCESSOR, not memory or bandwidth.
Expanded Viewpoint
OK, this article doesn't keep to what I have learned about lasers over the years, unless the theory as well as the actual mechanics of how lasers operate has changed. Electrons in the lasing medium are pumped up from their ground state into what is called a population inversion, where the majority of the electrons are in higher than their ground state. Then, when they fall back down into that ground state and their energy is released, it is manifested as light waves which bounce back and forth between two mirrors which are highly polished and aligned to about 1/3 wave length parallelism. The light waves bouncing between the mirrors cause OTHER electrons to give up their energy too, so you get an amplification effect going on. When the energy is high enough, the light breaks through the partial mirror end of the cavity and a beam exits which is MONOCHROMATIC, meaning of one frequency only. If the light is monochromatic, how can its different frequencies be split up? And if the light is traveling in a perfectly straight line between the mirrors, how can you get it into a spiral shape? Light travels in a straight line, unless it is reflected off of something. You cannot see a beam of light unless it is pointing straight into your eyes from its source, or it is reflecting off of something.