University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Cool Computing

A new kind of optical switch could allow computers to run 100 times faster - without overheating

In the world of computing, faster is better – so it’s no surprise that scientists will do anything to speed up the flow of information.

One strategy is to use photons of light rather than electrons – but even optical computers can only do so much number crunching before they overheat. Now U of T physicists Sajeev John and Xun Ma have found a way of making optical computers run faster while keeping cool. Their research involves a new way of guiding photons of light through specially designed crystals (known as “photonic crystals”), as well as a new kind of optical switch, and could allow for optical computers that run more than 100 times faster than conventional electronic computers.

And if that’s not fast enough for you, just wait – their colleagues in the Quantum Optics Group at U of T’s physics department are working toward a full-fledged quantum computer, capable of performing multiple computations at the same time. Although such a device holds great promise, a practical quantum computer may still be years away.

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