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Graphene could allow computer chips to run on light

Posted: 18 Sep 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Vienna University of Technology  graphene  photodetector  telecommunications  electrical signals 

Scientists at the Vienna University of Technology have combined a graphene photodetector with a standard silicon chip that can transform light of all important frequencies used in telecommunications into electrical signals.

Two years ago, the team around Thomas Müller (Institute of Photonics, Vienna University of Technology) demonstrated that graphene is ideally suited to turn light into electrical current.

"There are many materials that can transform light into electrical signals, but graphene allows for a particularly fast conversion," said Thomas Müller. "So wherever large amounts of data are to be transmitted in a short period of time, graphene will in the future probably be the material of choice."

"A narrow waveguide with a diameter of about 200 by 500nm carries the optical signal to the graphene layer. There, the light is converted into an electrical signal, which can then be processed in the chip," explained Muller.

There have already been attempts to integrate photodetectors made of other materials (such as Germanium) directly into a chip. However, these materials can only process light of a specific wavelength range. The researchers were able to show that graphene can convert all wavelengths which are used in telecommunications equally well.

The graphene photodetector is not only extremely fast, it can also be built in a particularly compact way. Around 20,000 detectors can fit onto a single chip with a surface area of one square centimetre. Theoretically, the chip could be supplied with data via 20,000 different information channels.

"These technologies are not only important for transmitting data over large distances. Optical data transmission also becomes more and more important within computers themselves," said Müller.

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