New Nanomaterial Could Lead To Erasable, Rewriteable Optical Chips


Deleting sensitive information from chips using a remote device will no longer be a cinematic exaggeration or a fictional act. That is becoming a reality with optical chips made of a new nanomaterial.

The achievement of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin was that of creating a hybrid nanomaterial for writing and erasing of optical components heralding a new generation of optical chips and circuits.

At the core is Plasmonics, which explores oscillations in the density of electrons when photons hit a metallic surface. Named as surface plasmons, these oscillations of electrons act like waves.

The details of the new nanomaterial chip were discussed by Yuebing Zheng, a professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering for mechanical engineering in the journal Nano Letters.

"The molecules in this material are very sensitive to light, so we can use a UV light or specific light wavelengths to erase or create optical components," Zheng said.

As photochromic molecules undergo quantum interactions with the light, they make the molecules transparent or opaque. In the photonic circuit created by the Texas researchers, a waveguide was created. They were able to erase the waveguide using UV light and in rewriting the waveguide pattern again using a green laser.

According to the team, this is a big achievement as it is the first time that rewriting on a waveguide using an all-optical technique has been done.

In the new nanomaterial, tasks like writing, erasing and rewriting happen on a two-dimensional (2-D) nanomaterial. That opens up the possibility for nano-size optical chips and circuits in the market.

In the 2-D plane, light travels easily over a long distance with propagation, frequency, and phase is aided by the hybrid nature of the integrated nanophotonic circuits.

Advantage Of Hybrid Mode

In terms of structure, the nanomaterial of aluminum nanoparticles is mounted on a plasmonic surface with a polymer layer at the top embedded with molecules for responding to light. The hybrid helps dielectric waveguide mode and plasmonic resonance mode in surpassing their individual limits.

The combined advantages of dielectric waveguide mode and plasmonic resonance mode were highlighted by Zheng. Thanks to the hybrid plasmon-waveguide mode, an all-optical control has been achieved through photoswitchable Rabi splitting, Zheng added.

However, Zheng said, there are challenges to address before making the optical chip commercial. They include optimizing molecules to improve the stability of the re-writable waveguides and ensuring higher performance to handle optical communications.

Boost For Light-Based Data Transport

The new research adds a new momentum to the existing preference for components in devices that allow data transport with light as a replacement of electricity, as they are fast and energy-efficient than silicon made components.

However, the current CDs and DVDs are constrained by the need for stand-alone light sources, optical media and light detectors in running rewritable optical components. The new material may mitigate that weakness.

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