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Thursday, 6 April, 2000, 18:31 GMT 19:31 UK
Chip promises telecoms revolution
lab microscope
The new "optic chip" is at the development stage
New polymers developed by US scientists for boosting transmission in optic cables could revolutionise telecommunications.

The optic chip has the potential of revolutionising the way we all function

Professor Dalton
The researchers claim the breakthrough could eliminate download time on the internet. It could also be applied to technologies like aircraft navigation and anti-collision radar in cars.

The polymers have been developed to act as modulators. Modulators form the "bridge" between fibre-optic cables and existing electronic devices - computers, TVs, etc. They translate electrical information into data-packed beams of light.

Optic cables are currently not being used to their full potential because of the poor interface with electronic devices. Organic polymers developed by engineers at the University of Washington and the University of Southern California translate electric signals 10 times faster than current lithium based devices.

Prof Dalton headed the research on the new chip
The researchers have used the polymers to build so-called "optic chips".

They claim these provide such an enormous bandwidth in which to fit information that a single chip measuring little more than a millionth of an inch could handle all a major company's telephone, computer, television and satellite traffic. Yet, crucially, the device requires less than a fraction of a volt of electricity to operate.

Shape shift

Organic polymers are known for their impressive electro-optic capabilities. However, until now, no-one has been able to make use of them because they generate their own electric fields that clash with one another.

The research team led by Professor Larry Dalton solved this problem by changing the shape of the polymers. This achieved the long-sought goal in opto-electrics: a high bandwidth, polymer modulator device operating below one volt.

"We'll be able to take telephone signals, computer data, TV signals, any type of signal you can think of, put it on fibre optic, route it around the world with almost no optical signal loss, and accomplish this with infinite bandwidth. It has the potential of revolutionising the way we all function," said Professor Dalton.

Fibre optic expert Dr Keith Home agreed the new optic chip was an important development but told BBC News Online: "Speed is critically important in developing optic networks and the new optic chip is certainly a viable solution. But there are still a lot of technical hurdles to overcome. It's also important to recognise that there are alternative technologies such as state of the art semi-conductors."

Dr Home is technical director of organic materials at Corning Inc, an American company that specialises in fibre optic technology.

The research is published in the journal Science.

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12 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
Optic fibre world records broken
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