Record-setting molecules could speed optical computing

Jan. 2, 2007
January 2, 2007, Pullman, WA, Leuven, Belgium, and Beijing, China--The internet could soon shift into overdrive thanks to a new generation of optical molecules developed and tested by a team of researchers from Washington State University, the University of Leuven in Belgium, and the Chinese Academy of Science in China. The new materials--organic molecules known as chromophores--interact more strongly with light than any molecules ever tested.

January 2, 2007, Pullman, WA, Leuven, Belgium, and Beijing, China--The internet could soon shift into overdrive thanks to a new generation of optical molecules developed and tested by a team of researchers from Washington State University, the University of Leuven in Belgium, and the Chinese Academy of Science in China. The new materials--organic molecules known as chromophores--interact more strongly with light than any molecules ever tested.

That makes them, or other molecules designed along the same principles, prime candidates for use in optical technologies such as optical switches, internet connections, optical memory systems and holograms. The molecules were synthesized by chemists in China, evaluated according to theoretical calculations by a physicist at WSU and tested for their actual optical properties by chemists in Belgium. The team's findings are published in the January 1 issue of the journal Optics Letters.

Ever since optical technologies became prominent in the 1970s, researchers have tried to improve the materials used to handle light. In 1999, Kuzyk discovered a fundamental limit to how strongly light can interact with matter. He went on to show that all molecules examined at that time fell far short of the limit. Even the best molecules had 30 times less "optical brawn," as he calls it, than was theoretically possible. The molecules described in the new report break through this long-standing ceiling and are intrinsically 50 percent better than any previously tested, which means they are far more efficient at converting light energy to a useable form.

According to physicist Ivan Biaggio of Lehigh University, the work "is a very important contribution that may help the community to finally deliver the all-optical switching performances that are needed for tomorrow's all-optical data-processing networks, an aim that has eluded researchers for 20 years."

For more information, visit www.wsunews.wsu.edu.com.

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