Light is the fastest thing in the known universe. Harnessing this power and integrating it in a piece of chip is a truly remarkable feat with potentially infinite applications. Research scientists have recently discovered a new way of harnessing the speed of light and integrating it in a microchip. Although we’re still a long way away from building starships that can travel faster than the speed of light, the technology behind this recent innovation could lead to a whole new generation of microchips that are light-based, potentially powering superfast and super smart quantum computers.
Theoretically speaking, light in a vacuum can travel at speeds of up to 1.08 billion kilometers per hour. This is the fastest possible speed at which matter, or energy, can travel according to Einstein’s theory of relativity. So, for now, time travel is still a thing of science fiction, at least until we figure out how to break the speed of light.
The key to realizing light-bending microchips is the use of zero-index materials. The different applications it will offer, when it comes to controlling light, are vast. These days, almost everyone has some kind of electronic device in their person, whether it’s a smartphone, a smart watch, or some type of wearable tech that runs on tiny circuits. The life-giving blood that flows through those devices is called electrons.
However, because of the resistance encountered in metal wires and various electronic components, electrons can only trickle through at a fraction of the speed of light, resulting in wasted energy. Photonic devices, or devices that are powered by light-based microchips, are much more efficient and operate way faster than conventional electronics. Additionally, because light is used to power the components, instead of electrons, devices are cooler, which means more can be packed together resulting in smaller, more powerful computers.
The breakthrough in this regard is the ability to weave a zero-index material onto a microchip, which scientists have recently done for the first time. This feat was made possible by designing a new metamaterial, an artificial material that features a structure engineered to interact with and manipulate light in various ways.