This is how a scientist’s error turned out to be a boon in data storing

This is how a scientist’s error turned out to be a boon in data storingThe light that guides us from darkness to brightness is now helping in data storing too! While electronic chips have been already working on data at a blazing speed, this new method of storing data using ‘photons of light’ instead of electrons is heralding a new path on which research would be carried out.

World over, scientists have been working on increasing the efficiency and speed of computers, thus altering the way data is used, stored, manipulated and recalled at a speed of a micro second. This new twig in the path of research can actually alter the way the world views energy efficiency as far as data storage is concerned.

And the research isn’t a result of some error, however, in some ways it can be called one.

A scientist was working at the physics lab in the University of Chicago and was puzzled by a persistent error in an experiment under lab conditions involving a rather exotic material that would be referred to as a topological insulator.

An unexplained noise in this experiment bothered him to a great deal and when he found the source of this ‘disturbance’, which was altering the experiment, he was amazed. This hunt led him to a novel way of drawing and erasing optical computing circuits.


Scientists are now looking at constructing optical gates that are similar to electronic circuits based on ‘conventional’ transistors. Andrew L Yeats and David D. Awschalom, the scientists who explored this phenomenon, worked on this because they noticed the circuit work with some differences on certain days at the lab. This was strange, considering the lab conditions weren’t highly altered when the research was in progress.

The interest in photonic chip dates back to decades. While electrons move through the parts of a computer chip , they often bump into one another, thus slowing down and generating heat that affects the life and efficiency of the computer; whereas the photons travel together with least or no resistance, that too at the speed of light. Scientists have already been working on developing high efficiency memory circuits that are optical based as against the ones that were made using the metal wires so far.

Using light or photons could very well be the next logical step for the scientists to explore as far as data is concerned. University of Oxford’s Professor Harish Bhaskaran, who led the research in this area, says using faster processors can be a limiting factor, if the information flow is going to be affected anyway from the memory.

Using light, he says, can speed up this process.

Photonic memory has been explored before, as it was demonstrated on a chip. It was short lived and constantly required a supply of energy (read light) to work. This stream of research is anticipated to have greater potential since it is non-volatile. This means it does not require continuous supply of energy to work.

Because in this phase of technology, light pulses can be used to switch the material between two distinct states. Researchers have showed that they could use the light to transfer the material into mixed states, using different combinations.

This means, the memory capacity just expands in mammoth quantity without having to add extra load on the chips or transistors. The concept of space and speed will undergo massive change as far as memory is concerned.

Memory technology like this can be used to augment the performance of data centers and expand possibilities of cloud computing. Companies are already conducting research and experiments around this concept, developing systems to move light around a chip using waveguides from one chip to another, using optical cables like those that have been employed in telecommunications industry.

But the emerging technology chooses to marry both conventional and modern methods, only increasing the efficiency of memory without having to cram the space or shut the speed.

Microsoft is already supporting scientists who are working on building quantum computers by braiding anyons, which are subatomic particles. According to University of Chicago team, optical gating technique will help create a quantum computing environment or possibly serve as a platform to make another leap in the given field of technology.

The optical gating effect has been demonstrated most clearly at extremely low temperatures and other changed conditions that may lead to affecting its speed. The only thing the scientific community is awaiting from the researchers a potential answer to whether it can be replicated at tiny scale for writing and erasing at higher speed. With an answer to this questions, this ‘error’ that cropped up in a lab, is all set to change the way computing memory would be employed with the help of light.

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