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Revolutionizing Data Transmission: Researchers Achieve Unprecedented Speeds Using Microcombs

A team of Danish researchers and physicists recently discovered a way to transfer almost 1.84 petabits of data per second - which is equivalent to nearly 100 million Netflix movies playing simultaneously - using only one small chip. In recent years, achieving this would have required more power and more chips, even though the previous record for the highest data transmission rate using one chip was only set in 2020.

The team used a relatively discovery as the basis for their development. In 2005, the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to a team of researchers who discovered a way to convert laser light into a special type of rainbow, called an optical frequency comb. To accomplish this, a laser is shined through a special chamber, which produces a rainbow with all of its colors spread out evenly. However, this process involved massive machines, larger than a standard refrigerator. Two years later, another team built on this discovery, and was able to achieve a similar effect, but with much smaller chips, dubbed “microcombs.”

Microcombs can be used in various fields to detect diseases, provide information about unknown planets, build more accurate clocks, and even efficiently transmit data. Compared to conventional fiber optic cables, microcombs are far better at transmitting large amounts of data at once.

Fiber optics involve shining a laser through a modulator, which converts packets of data into a pattern of light and then sends it into the core of the fiber optic cable. To send multiple pieces of data at once, separate lasers need to be used to ensure that patterns have different wavelengths, so they do not interfere with each other inside the core. Microcombs, on the other hand, use one laser, but a special chip, to produce multiple wavelengths.

The Danish team was able to create 223 distinct wavelengths, and along with their 32-core fiber optic cable, they could hypothetically transmit 8,251 patterns all at the same time. However, this would require 8,251 expensive modulators. The team only used three but was still able to prove that thousands of modulators would produce the intended effect. Even with just three modulators they could transmit nearly two million gigabytes per second.

But why is this discovery important? Data usage and size are predicted to increase as time progresses. As new technologies are created and old ones improved, processes will inevitably require more and more data. This chip from the Danish team could transmit significantly more data faster, while also reducing electricity usage and climate effects.

There are still problems that need to be solved before microcombs can be put to real use within modern technology. For example, although modulators are not extremely big, combining hundreds or even thousands of them on one platform is currently impossible. Even if the majority of these problems were solved, there is likely no current need for the transmission of data as large as 100 million Netflix movies at the same time.

[Sources: Science News Explores; New Scientist]

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