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Light dawns at Intel

Care for a little photonic modulation, madam?

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Chipzilla's bunny-suited boffins* have managed to build a transistor-like device, called a photonic modulator and capable of encoding data onto a light beam, out of silicon.

The breakthrough could lead to cheap, stupidly fast connections between PCs, servers and so on, and eventually inside computers as well. Ethernets are not expected to benefit.**

A nifty piece of kit, the photonic modulator works by splitting a light beam in two then inducing a phase shift in one of the resulting beams. When the two beams are recombined, the interference between the two makes the light exciting the chip go on and off at over 1GHz - something like 50 times faster than anyone has demonstrated before, Intel claims.

Naturally, this rapidly switching light beam can be translated into 1s and 0s, and so used to transmit data.

"This is a significant step toward building optical devices that move data around inside a computer at the speed of light," said Pat Gelsinger, senior VP and CTO at Intel. "It's the kind of breakthrough that ripples across an industry over time enabling other new devices and applications. It could help make the Internet run faster, build much faster high-performance computers and enable high bandwidth applications like ultra-high definition displays or vision-recognition systems."

The company says that the technology could start showing up in devices by the end of the noughties. So we've a bit of a wait, then.

The original report on this research was published in Nature, Volume 428 dated 12 February. A copy of the paper and more information about Intel's silicon photonics research can be found here. ®

*Chiefly, British slang for scientists.

**This is a joke. The first reader to email the writer with the correct explanation of why this is funny will win this T-Shirt. Don't forget to include a delivery address.

Update We have a winner. Thanks to everyone who entered.

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