When it comes to transferring huge amounts of data in the fastest possible time, copper sucks. What you need to use is light. Until now that meant lasers—but nano-scale LEDs can do it with a fraction of the energy.
Plenty of laser data transfer systems already exist, designed to replace circuitry on motherboards in supercomputers. But a new nano-scale LED set-up from Stanford improves on the prevailing energy efficiency 2,000 times, using just 0.25 femto-joules per bit sent as compared to a laser's 500 femto-joules. And even though they use so little energy, they should be capable of data transfer rates as high as 10Gbps.
So, how do they do it? Well, most normal LEDs give off light at a range of frequencies, which makes them impossible to use for this kind of data transfer. What they've managed to do at Stanford is create a single-frequency LED, created by applying electricity to nano-dots of indium arsenide. As a result, the dots give off light which can be focussed into a beam. The whole process is highly efficient, mopping the floor with power-hungry lasers.
It means that light-based motherboards might actually make it to market as opposed to being some kind of academic dream. And that means much faster data transfer, not just in supercomputers but for everyone. Good job, guys. [Stanford Engineering via The Verge; Image: Stanford Engineering]