Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have showed off graphene-based technology that could bring much faster digital communications speeds. An experimental optical device was created that uses graphene, a one-atom-thick layer of crystallized carbon, that switches light on and off much faster than current network modulator technologies. The team, lead by engineering professor Xiang Zhang, believes it can eventually scale its technology up to 500GHz, which is much faster than current 1GHz tech.
Thus far, the team has managed to reach 1GHz speeds.
The 25-micron size would also allow thinner cables can be used to reduce capacitance and boost speeds further. The researchers said the technology could eventually allow downloading entire 3D HD movies onto a smartphone in just seconds.
Zhang directs a National Science Foundation (NSF) Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center at UC Berkeley and says graphene modulators have the potential to deliver speeds up to 10 times faster than current technology. A fellow faculty member, Feng Wang, an assistant professor of physics and head of the Ultrafast Nano-Optics Group at UC Berkeley, worked with Zhang on the project.
Graphene is the thinnest, strongest crystalline material found thus far. Its properties allow it to be stretched like rubber and make it an exceptional conductor of heat and electricity. Graphene is cheap to produce and compatible with silicon technology.
"The graphite in a pencil can provide enough graphene to fabricate one billion optical modulators," said Ming Liu, post-doctoral researcher in Zhang's lab and co-lead author of the study.
Zhang said he hopes to see industrial applications of their device in the next few years.