Using a new hybrid material made of nanometer-sized "buckyballs" and a polymer, Canadian researchers have shown that nanotechnology could lead to an Internet based entirely on light and 100 times faster than today's. This material allowed them to use one laser beam to direct another with unprecedented control, a featured needed inside future fiber-optic networks. These future fiber-optic communication systems could relay signals around the global network with picosecond (one trillionth of a second) switching times, resulting in an Internet 100 times faster. Please note this discovery appeared in a lab: we'll have to live with our current networks for some time.
Here is the beginning of this University of Toronto (U of T) news release.
Professor Ted Sargent and colleagues advance the use of one laser beam to direct another with unprecedented control, a featured needed inside future fibre-optic networks.
"This finding showcases the power of nanotechnology: to design and create purpose-built custom materials from the molecule up," says Sargent, a professor at U of T's Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
What kind of problems did they solve?
Until now, engineering researchers have been unable to capitalize on theoreticians' predictions of the power of light to control light. The failure of real materials to live up to their theoretical potential has become known as the "Kuzyk quantum gap" in molecular nonlinear optics.
To breach the Kuzyk quantum gap, Carleton University chemistry professor Wayne Wang and colleague Connie Kuang designed a material that combined nanometre-sized spherical particles known as "buckyballs" (molecules of carbon atoms resembling soccer balls) with a designed class of polymer. The polymer and buckyball combination created a clear, smooth film designed to make light particles pick up each other's patterns.
Sargent and U of T colleague Qiying Chen then studied the optical properties of this new hybrid material. They found that the material was able to process information carried at telecommunications wavelengths -- the infrared colours of light used in fibre-optic cables.
What can we expect from this discovery?
According to Sargent, future fibre-optic communication systems could relay signals around the global network with picosecond (one trillionth of a second) switching times, resulting in an Internet 100 times faster. To do this, they need to avoid unnecessary conversions of signals between optical and electronic form.
Says Sargent: "By creating a new hybrid material that can harness a light beam's power, we've demonstrated a new class of materials which meets the engineering needs of future photonic networks."
However, the keyword here is "future," so don't think that your Internet connection will be 100 times faster before several years.
For more information, the research work has been published by Nano Letters on August 11, 2004. The paper is called "Cross-linked C60 Polymer Breaches the Quantum Gap" and is available here if you're an American Chemical Society (ACS) subscriber or if you decide to purchase it for $25.
Sources: University of Toronto news release, via EurekAlert!, August 11, 2004; Nano Letters, August 11, 2004