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7/21/2006
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New Approach Could Lead To Self-Powered Silicon Laser Chip

A UCLA scientist applies solar cells to remove heat and electrons from optical computing systems.

A team at the university of California at Los Angeles hopes to develop computer chips that use light to transmit data--and are self-powered, to boot.

Using lasers and amplifiers to send information as pulses of light over optical fibers has transformed long-distance communications. For years, scientists have predicted silicon-based optical computing could transform computers and chips by moving data as light instead of electricity over copper wires.


Bahram AJalali has some very cool chips

Bahram AJalali has some very cool chips
UCLA professor Bahram Jalali helped create the first silicon pulsed laser and optical amplifier in 2004. Intel followed that up last year with the first continuous-wave silicon laser. The goal is to overcome speed limitations imposed by copper wires. "For some time, it's been a dream of researchers to apply optical communication and optical networking to solve that problem," Jalali says.

The problem is that light waves can generate excess electrons, which can block light signals and generate heat--a bad thing inside a computer chip. Intel developed a method for removing the excess electrons, but it required 1 watt of power. Using a similar effect that occurs in solar cells, which convert sunlight into electrons and electricity, Jalali developed technology to remove the electrons and the heat they generate and convert them back into electricity that can be used to power the chip.

"Providing optical amplification with no electrical power consumption could enable optical interconnects between chips and eventually on the chip itself. This could lead to self-powered chips someday," Jalali says.

The next challenge: Reduce the size of silicon optical amplifiers to fit on a chip. "If we can do that, I'm confident that it will have a high impact in optical interconnects," Jalali says, "and this will revolutionize computers."

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