Light-emitting silicon boosts chip speeds

New silicon technology could bring smaller, more powerful computers

British scientists are claiming a breakthrough that promises to unite microelectronics with fibre optics and bring about an upheaval in microprocessor manufacturing and modern communications.

Scientists at Surrey University, led by researcher Kevin Homewood, are showing off a prototype silicon-based light-emitting diode (LED) -- an invention that could be of significance to the whole electronics and communication industry.

By enabling silicon to emit light, the scientists say they may have found a way to use light to efficiently transfer data around microchips. This could lead to smaller, more powerful computers and improve data communications significantly.

Silicon is one of the key building blocks of integrated circuits, such as the chips found in personal computers, while fibre optics allows data to be transferred at far greater speeds than silicon. Up until now, it has proved impossible to build light emitting technology into silicon circuits.

This is unfortunate because fibre optics are fundamental to modern data communications. But connection between optical networks and silicon circuits result in a bottleneck in communications.

Homewood and fellow engineers believe they may have found the answer to the physical restrictions presented by silicon.

"The significance is massive," said Russell Gwilliam, who contributed to the project. "The way the chip industry is going, it will run out of steam in a few years. Chip manufacturers and the communications industry would benefit most."

Gwilliam said that the technology could be implemented into modern manufacturing almost immediately.

The researchers have obtained a patent for the technology and are hoping that manufacturers will seek to licence it from them.

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