'Plasmonic' material could supercharge fibre-optics

'Plasmonic' material could supercharge fibre-optics

Fibre-optic communication is vital to the modern world. First developed in the 1970s, fibre-optic cables now connect almost every part of the globe, forming the backbone of the internet.

Now, however, we could be on the verge of a significant breakthrough in the speed of that technology. A team of materials engineers has developed a new 'plasmonic oxide' that they claim could boost optical devices to ten times faster than conventional technologies.

Their optical material - aluminium-doped zinc oxide - can reflect different amounts of light from its surface under different conditions, while requiring less power than other similar devices. An additional bonus is that it's very easy to fabricate at low temperatures.

Heat up and melt

"Low power is important because if you want to operate very fast - and we show the potential for up to a terahertz or more - then you need low energy dissipation," said doctoral student Nathaniel Kinsey, who worked on the technology. "Otherwise, your material would heat up and melt when you start pushing it really fast."

It could be used to create optical, rather than electrical, circuitry - speeding up computational processes. The researchers have already proposed creating an all-optical transistor, with Kinsey adding: "All-optical means that unlike conventional technologies we don't use any electrical signals to control the system. Both the data stream and the control signals are optical pulses."

The team published its research in the journal Optica.

Image credit: Karen // CC BY 2.0

Duncan Geere
Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Every day he finds the most interesting science news and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.