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Researchers employ laser light to speed up electronics (hindu, )

Indian part of team that generated very high frequency current in solid material

A researcher from India has taken the first definitive step to produce high-speed electronic devices that can operate one million times faster than modern electronics.

At the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, Manish Garg and other researchers used laser light to generate very high frequency electric current inside a solid material. The electrons were found to be moving at a speed (frequency) close to 1015 (one million billion) hertz; the best achievable speed in modern transistors is only 109 (one billion) hertz. The results were published in Nature.

Conventionally, the motion of electrons (conductivity) is achieved by applying voltage. But Dr. Garg and others controlled the motion of electrons inside the solid material by using laser pulses.

“Light waves are electromagnetic in nature and have very high oscillation frequency of electric and magnetic fields. This ultra-high frequency of light waves can be used to drive and control electron motion in semiconductors. Electronics, when driven by such light waves, will be inherently faster than current state of electronics,” says Dr. Garg, who is the first author of the paper.

Nanofilm electrons

“When we shine high-intensity laser on silicon dioxide, nanofilm electrons are generated. When the electrons move in the presence of electric field of the laser, it generates current,” he says. “Initially, the nanofilm behaves like an insulator, but when we shine high-intensity laser, it behaves like a conductor. The conductivity increases by more than 19 orders of magnitude in the presence of laser pulse.”

The performance of high-speed circuits rely on how quickly electric current can be turned on and off inside a material. “We showed that we could turn the conductivity of silicon dioxide nanofilm from zero to very high values in a time interval of 30 attoseconds (an attosecond is 1×10-18 of a second), which is one million times faster than modern electronics” he says.

The very short time interval needed to turn silicon dioxide from an insulator to a conductor was possible as the team used high-intensity and extremely short laser pulses and silicon dioxide in the form of a nanofilm. In the bulk form, silicon dioxide tends to get damaged by high-intensity laser as the material tends to accumulate heat produced by the laser pulse. But as a nanofilm, silicon dioxide becomes nearly transparent to laser and absorbs less heat and therefore gets less damaged.

Measuring current

“In our earlier work, which was also published in Nature, we obtained signatures of very high frequency current, but we were not able to measure it. But, now, we are able to measure current in real time by measuring the time-structure of emitted extreme ultraviolet radiation using an attosecond streak camera,” he says. Current produced in the nanofilm manifests as extreme UV radiation.

“We envision that in future, we will be able to use transistors driven by laser pulses instead of electronic transistors in devices. The technical challenge is to make use of high frequency currents to perform logic operations similar to the ones performed inside an electronic transistor and also make it feasible on integrated chips,” Dr. Garg says.


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