Optical-to-acoustic microchip could boost data-center efficiency

Optical data can be too fast for its own good. While the speeds obtained are great for carrying information over distances and into chips, when the light-carried data lands there it’s often moving too fast to be thoroughly processed and analyzed. Data can need slowing down for intense number-crunching and routing.

Solutions to this apparent dichotomy have been attempted. They include the obvious one — speeding up microprocessors themselves. However, there’s a problem with that: Faster chips using electronics create more heat, generate interference and use more energy. All bad for data centers.

Using sound waves to speed up networks

Scientists say sound waves, though, could present a solution. They say one should convert the light zooming into the chip to sound — creating a kind of acoustic buffer (sound waves travel slower than light waves) — then process the data and turn it back into zippy light again, to be sent on its way.

Adding a “delay allows for the data to be briefly stored and managed inside the chip for processing, retrieval and further transmission as light waves,” explain scientists from University of Sydney in an article on the university’s website. The researchers say they’ve made a breakthrough. They say they have, for the first time, accomplished the world’s “first transfer of light to acoustic information on a chip.”

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