Future PCs could run on light

Future PCs could run on light

A team of scientists have invented the world's first optical fibre which will open the way to computers being run on light and improve medical imaging inside the body.

The scientists from the Australian Photonics Cooperative Research Centre Association and University of Sydney's Optical Fibre Technology Centre have developed hollow optic fibres made from perplex, which are only a few times thicker than a human hair.

The fibre promises to create potentially massive increases in speed and capacity currently unattainable with copper connections, moving the PC closer to becoming a machine that runs on light.

APCRC team leader Dr Marijn van Eijkelenborg says the new fibre was produced by precision-drilling 100 or more holes in an 8cm thick rod of special Perspex, then heating and stretching it until it was up to 400 metres long, and a fraction of a millimetre thick: "This creates a plastic fibre with an array of scores of tiny air channels all along its length. You can send a light signal down each of these channels, or through the Perspex islands in between them, which greatly increases the capacity of the fibre - like a coaxial cable with the wires made from air."

The fibres are ideal for coupling with the latest optical-laser micro-arrays and, using these, could become the cables for the future computer.

Dr Martijin van Eijkelenborg added: "As computer speeds build up to around 10 Gigaherz, you start to lose the signal in the copper track which connects the chips. Basically, the faster the computer, the more trouble the chips have communicating with one another. So we thought: why not try an optical solution - use photons (the particles of light) in a plastic cable instead of electrons in a copper wire."

Apart from opening up the scope for ultra-high-speed computing, the plastic cable could improve the interface between computers and video, enhancing both the speed and quality of images.

The fibres also promise a new era in medical imaging. Being only a tenth of the thickness of a normal endoscope it can penetrate tiny blood vessels and other awkward corners of the body with greater ease, safety and less inconvenience to the patient.

In their first potential medical applications, they will be used with an established Australian medical procedure for curing deafness.

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