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The UBC Okanagan Micro-Optical Engineering Research Program is developing integrated optical processors - photo by Karin Wilson
The UBC Okanagan Micro-Optical Engineering Research Program is developing integrated optical processors - photo by Karin Wilson

UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 1 | Jan. 3, 2008

NBT: Computing at Light-speed

Look out transistors and wire. New light-based devices will make computers much faster, while optical communications move data faster than ever before.

By Jonathan Holzman
Assistant Professor, School of Engineering, UBC Okanagan

It is an incredible time to be an electrical engineer at the University of British Columbia. Communication technologies have grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade, and innovative devices and communication systems are continually evolving to meet growing network demands.

Internet traffic usage alone has jumped from Gigabit levels (109 bits/sec) in the late 1990’s to Petabit levels (1015 bits/sec) at the present, and technologies are struggling to keep up. At the forefront of this communication explosion have been numerous fibre-optic and device-related technologies within modern communication systems (of which many had their start in Canadian research programs from universities, national institutes and the private sector).

The Micro-Optical Engineering Research Program, which I head with Julian Cheng in the School of Engineering at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, is working to meet the growing demands of communication technologies through a variety of optical technology-based communication processing systems.

The optical benefits that revolutionized information transmission over the past decade through fibre-optic cable distribution are now being shown to have great potential in ultrahigh-speed optical information processing.

With this in mind, the Micro-Optical Engineering Research Program is developing three-dimensional integrated optical “processors” to carry out complex logical computations and processing that have been realized historically by electronic systems.

Our work will overcome the inherently slow bottlenecks of electronic transistor-based devices by implementing purely photonic logic structures and all-optical processing structures.

The integrated devices are currently being investigated for use as highly complex logical architectures for information processing and as bi-directional communication nodes within wireless optical (near-infrared) communication networks. The transmission and processing rates that characterize light-based devices are thousands of times faster than their electronic counterparts and show great potential.

The current research being carried out by the Micro-Optical Engineering Research Program is part of a larger network of researchers and facilities both within and outside of the University of British Columbia. The program has brought together nanotechnological material researchers from the National Research Council Canada (NRC) National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) and device fabrication experts from UBC Vancouver’s Advanced Materials and Process Engineering Laboratory (AMPEL). The ultimate photonic device realizations are carried out at the UBC Okanagan Laser Laboratory, where the future of optical technology looks especially bright.

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Last reviewed 21-Dec-2007

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