It's a schoolboy's dream: a laser-powered computer. But now thanks to the development of a novel super-stretched germanium-based semiconductor it could form the basis of future ultra-high speed optical computers.
It's long been known that microelectronics faces seemingly impossible challenges from the immutable Laws of Physics the smaller components get. That's led to some researchers believing that the future of computing lies in optical systems and lasers.
The problem is that traditional silicon semiconductors are not much use when it comes to the emission of laser light, says Richard Geiger, a doctoral student at the Laboratory for Micro- and Nanotechnology at the Paul Scherrer Institute, in Switzerland.
Gieger and colleagues at technology college ETH Zurich instead turned their attention to germanium components.
"Germanium is perfectly compatible with silicon and already used in the computer industry for the production of silicon chips," said Geiger.
They were able to develop a novel manufacturing process which introduces tensile strain on germanium which its etched on to slabs of silicon. Under strain, germanium's physical properties change, making suitable for lasing.
“With a strain of three percent, the material emits around twenty-five times more photons than in a relaxed state," explained Martin Süess. The technique used to create this strain at the atomic level is equivalent to the comparable forces exerted on a pencil as two lorries pull on it in opposite directions, the researchers claimed.
They now believe it will be possible to build tiny lasers using this technique, paving the way for future nanocomputers. The work was published in this week's Nature Photonics.
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