Another Silicon Revolution?

Faster computers are something that all of us would like both at home and in the workplace. Even our most up to date computer hardware uses copper wiring for the transfer of information. One big problem with this is that as the copper wires heat up the information transfer slows down.

Faster Computers in 5 Years?

Physicists and engineers at the University of Pennsylvania now believe that they have made a discovery that in as little as 5 years from now could mean a big improvement in the speed that computers run.

Using ‘Electronic Spin’

Spintronic / photonic computing uses the transfer of information by light - also known as electronic spin. At sub atomic particle level this ‘spin’ property has an effect on the order of the components of molecules.

Scientists have discovered that silicon (a symmetrical crystal) can have its geometry changed by cutting it in a different direction so that it has ‘chiral’ properties. This means that its own mirror image cannot be superimposed onto it, and this in turn means that the altered silicon can be made into detectors of the spin of light. This ability to detect the spin will allow more information to be transmitted using silicon rather than copper. The end result should mean faster and more consistent operating computers.

Only Certain Components First

The science however is still at the stage where building a whole computer this way is a little way off. The complexity and costs of a fully spintronic / photonic computer would be prohibitive.

It is likely though that within just a few years computers will be produced incorporating some spintronic / photonic components such as photo-detector devices instead of the old copper interconnectors. 

Accidental Discovery

Like so many other great discoveries this one was made accidentally while the scientists were investigating heavier materials. Materials that have heavy elements are usually the ones that display this spin property, but they have proven very difficult to integrate into mainly silicon computer systems. 

The discovery that the silicon itself can be altered in this way therefore makes the discovery even better as it already has a compatibility with existing systems.