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Paint-on lasers set to rescue silicon

Smashing the bottleneck

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Researchers have said they can rescue silicon from the interconnect bottleneck that is set to put the kybosh on increases in number-crunching pace by 2010. A 'paint-on' laser will make it possible for chips to use optical communication to remove the logjam, say a team from the University of Toronto.

Their innovation, published in the journal Optics Express, uses a suspension of colloidal quantum dots, which are tiny particles of semiconductor. These nanocrystals made the blue laser source used for blu-ray DVD possible.

The Toronto team are the first to make a colloidal quantum dot laser produce invisible infrared light.

This is the wavelength used to carry information in fibre optics. Main author of the report Sjoerd Hoogland told Science Blog: "We made our particles just the right size to generate laser light at exactly this wavelength."

Integrating current bulky laser technology onto chips would be impossible, but the paint-on nanocrystal lasers could be powered by the electronics already on microchips, massively speeding up the links between microprocessor units.

It was a breeze to manufacture too. Hoogland said: "I made the laser by dipping a miniature glass tube in the paint and then drying it with a hairdryer."

The prospect is of a reprieve for the microchip industry in its current form. Other technologies like quantum computing and single-molecule processors are set to take over from silicon eventually.

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