A team of researchers from the University of Sydney has discovered a method for converting optical data to soundwaves that can be stored on a computer chip. This breakthrough could be used to help create a new type of superfast, light-based computer.

The researchers were able to take data stored on optical cables, as light, and convert it to soundwaves which are stored, and the data accessed, on a computer chip. Fiber optic cables can transmit data, stored as light, at an extremely fast rate; however, the data must be slowed down in order for it to be read and processed by a computer.

Dr. Birgit Stiller, research fellow at the University of Sydney and project supervisor, said that the process of slowing down the light data so that it can be processed by a computer chip ‘is like the difference between thunder and lightning.’

‘The information in our chip in acoustic form travels at a velocity five orders of magnitude slower than in the optical domain,’ she said.

Phononics has been the subject of much research and discussion at the world’s leading universities, industry leaders such as IBM and Intel, and by private firms interested in using technological advancements to gain a competitive advantage. Existing technology depends on the conversion of data, stored as light on high-speed fiber optic connections, into electrons, which can be processed by computer chips, but this conversion generates waste heat, which limits practical applications. Converting the data from light to sound, however, eliminates the waste heat issue and opens the field for the application of phonons to act as a unique link between RF and optics signals, with advanced signal processing capabilities and access to quantum regimes.

The new light-to-sound conversion method allows parallel processing at multiple amplitude and phases, which not only has implications for quantum computing, but also may affect cloud computing, telecommunications, and data center/data storage industries as well.

The process by which the light data is converted to sound includes a stringent phase-matching condition, which allows a multi-channel operation to store and retrieve information from different frequencies simultaneously. Optical data streams can be synchronized with precision, operating at high speeds while conducting parallel processing.

Professor Benjamin Eggleton, director of the Center of Excellence for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS) noted: ‘This is an important step forward in the field of optical information processing as this concept fulfills all requirements for current and future generation optical communication systems.’