The future of computing may find its roots in optics technology, and if so, there's a good chance the brainiacs from Berkeley will be the ones ushering in the new era. The newest breakthrough comes courtesy of mechanical engineering professor Xiang Zhang and his team of researchers who managed to pass light through a gap just 10 nanometers wide, the equivalent of only five times the width of a single piece of DNA. Prior to this, the record stood at 200 nanometers, or about 400 times smaller than the width of a human hair.
"There has been a lot of interest in scaling down optical devices," Zhang said. "It's the holy grail for the future of communications."
As research associate Rupert Oulton puts it, light and matter make strange bedfellows, and because their characteristic sizes are on vastly different scales, linking electronics and optics is a difficult task, no matter how much researchers would like to do so. But the processor of confining light can alter the interaction between light and matter, so just as computer engineers keep cramming more and more transistors into computer chips, optics researchers are continually looking to squish more light into smaller wires. Ideally, researchers would like to cram light down to the size of electron wavelengths for force light and matter to cooperate.