By 'growing' lasers, scientists open the door to lightning-fast computing

Our computers are limited in speed by their interconnects. As our electronics get quicker and more complex, the materials that we make them out of are increasingly struggling to cope.

But there's light on the horizon - literally. Researchers at Cardiff University, UCL and the University of Sheffield have come up with a laser that can be grown directly on silicon, allowing for ultra-fast optical connectors to be made.

Silicon is what we use to make semiconductors, which are embedded in basically everything you own that has an on-switch. As those objects have got more capable, we've begun pushing up against the physical limits permitted by conventional electrical interconnects.

A much better solution would be to use light to accomplish the same task, but for years, researchers have struggled to combine a semiconductor laser with silicon. Now, they've done it.

'Holy Grail'

"The techniques that we have developed permit us to realise the Holy Grail of silicon photonics, an efficient and reliable electrically driven semiconductor laser directly integrated on a silicon substrate," said Alwyn Seeds, who worked on the discovery.

The laser in question operates with a wavelength of 1300nm and operates at temperatures of up to 120C and for up to 100,000 hours (about 11 years).

The researchers have described it in detail in a paper in Nature Photonics.

Peter Smowton, who also contributed to the paper, said: "The precise outcomes of such a step are impossible to predict in their entirety, but it will clearly transform computing and the digital economy, revolutionise healthcare through patient monitoring, and provide a step-change in energy efficiency."