Scientists Convert Optical Data into Soundwaves

Researchers from the University of Sydney have developed a method to turn optical data into readable soundwaves, representing the world’s first transfer of light to acoustic information on a chip.

The development may allow researchers to dramatically slow digital information carried as light waves by transferring the data into sound waves in an integrated circuit or microchip.

“The information in our chip in acoustic form travels at a velocity five orders of magnitude slower than in the optical domain,” Birgit Stiller, Ph.D., a research fellow at the University of Sydney and supervisor of the project, said in a statement. “It is like the difference between thunder and lightning,”

Data delivered by light enjoy increased bandwidth and data that travels at the speed of light with no heat associated with electronic resistance.   

Transferring information from the optical to acoustic domain and back again inside a chip is necessary for the development of photonic integrated circuits—microchips that use light instead of electrons to manage data.

The delay allows the data to be briefly stored and managed inside the chip for processing, retrieval and further transmission as light waves. Light is a good carrier of information for taking data over long distances between continents through fiber-optic cables.

However, the speed becomes problematic when information is being processed in computers or telecommunication systems.

The researchers created a memory for digital information that coherently transfers between light and sound waves on a photonic microchip.

“Our system is not limited to a narrow bandwidth,” Stiller said. “So unlike previous systems this allows us to store and retrieve information at multiple wavelengths simultaneously, vastly increasing the efficiency of the device.”

Moritz Merklein, from the ARC Centre for Excellence for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS) and University of Sydney doctoral candidate, explained what must happen before the chips can be put on the market.

“For this to become a commercial reality, photonic data on the chip needs to be slowed down so that they can be processed, routed, stored and accessed,” Merklein said in a statement.

The study was published in Nature Communications.

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