The device makes use of materials used in CDs and DVDs, and it could help dramatically improve the speed of modern computing.
Today’s computers are held back by the relatively slow transmission of electronic data between the processor and the memory. There’s no point using faster processors if the limiting factor is the shuttling of information to-and-from the memory. The researchers think using light can significantly speed this up.
Simply bridging the processor-memory gap with photons isn’t efficient, though, because of the need to convert them back into electronic signals at each end. Instead, memory and processing capabilities would need be light-based too. Researchers have tried to create this kind of photonic memory before, but the results have always been volatile, requiring power in order to store data. For many applications — such as computer disk drives — it’s essential to be able to store data indefinitely, with or without power.
Now, an international team of researchers including researchers from Oxford University has produced the world’s first all-photonic nonvolatile memory chip. The new device uses the phase-change material Ge2Sb2Te5 (GST) — the same as that used in rewritable CDs and DVDs — to store data.
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