Graphene discovery could speed up digital communication

Digital communication could get much faster. This means you could soon watch full-length, high-definition, 3-D movies on your cell phone.

Scientists developed a graphene modulator that could increase the speed of digital communication and change the way we watch TV on our phones. If the graphene-based technology is used in consumer electronics, it means 3-D movies like Avatar would stream straight to your smartphone instantly.

The researchers at University of California, Berkeley built a tiny optical device that uses graphene to switch light on and off. The switch controls the speed of data transmission: The faster the pulses of light, the faster the data is sent out. So far, the researchers report speeds of 1 gigahertz, but think it's possible for the modulator to go as high as 500 gigahertz.

“Graphene enables us to make modulators that are incredibly compact and that potentially perform at speeds up to ten times faster than current technology allows. This new technology will significantly enhance our capabilities in ultrafast optical communication and computing," Xiang Zhang, engineering professor at UC Berkeley, said in a statement.

Graphene has been touted as sort of a miracle material. It's strong, extremely conductive and flexible - a perfect alternative to silicon . It was discovered from graphite (the same material in pencil lead) in 2004. According to the scientists, one graphite in a pencil could generate enough graphene to make 1 billion optical modulators.

Basically by using smaller modulators, optical cables could shrink so they can hold more charge, so they can transmit data faster.

The researchers expect to see the modulators hit the market in a couple of years. Besides helping us watch our favorite movies faster, the tiny graphene-based modulators could help increase the speed of transmission of data in fields such as bioinformatics and weather forecasting.

Graphene optical modulators could lead to ultrafast communications [University of California, Berkeley]

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