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Faster Optical Switching Through Chemistry

By Technology Review

March 5, 2010

New molecules produced at Georgia Tech could enable engineers to build all-optical data routers, ultimately leading to transmission speeds as high as two terabits--or 2,000 gigabits--per second. Today's fastest commercial routers switch data at 40 gigabits per second.

Modern fiber-optic networks are limited in speed because the light that carries data has to be converted into electrical signals when it reaches an Internet router. This step lets the router determine the signal's destination and forward the data accordingly. Keeping data all-optical would significantly speed up transmission of large amounts of data, such as detailed medical images, telepresence applications, high-speed image recognition, and high-definition video.

To address this problem, engineers have built devices that can switch optical signals by manipulating mirrors or bubbles to redirect the light beams. The Georgia Tech team, in contrast, designed molecules that could theoretically switch optical signals in just a few femtoseconds, versus the microseconds needed by systems that use physical mechanisms to redirect the light.

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