A world-first computer chip transmits information via sound waves rather than electrons

A world-first computer chip transmits information via sound waves rather than electrons ...

For the first time, Harvard researchers controlled and modulated acoustic waves, or sound waves, using an electric field in a computer chip, according to a press release.

The new discovery may have wide-ranging implications for quantum computation as well as classical computing, which typically relies on data being transmitted using electrons.

A new sound wave processor is being developed by Harvard researchers.

Classic computer chips transmit and process information by modulating electrons. This is done via transistors that encode data into the computer language of one and zeroes, one being represented by the high current, and the other by the low current.

Photonic chips, on the other hand, modulate photons particles of light before sending them through components called waveguides that transmit information. The Harvard team's sound wave chip works more like a photonic chip, although it adds a few extra advantages.

Acoustic waves are slower than electromagnetic waves of the same frequency, but that's not necessarily bad, according to the researchers who developed the new device. Short acoustic waves are easy to confine in nanoscale structures, and they have strong interactions with the system in which they are housed. This makes them useful for both classical and quantum applications.

"Acoustic waves are promising as on-chip information carriers for quantum and classical information processing, but the development of acoustic integrated circuits has been hampered by the inability to control acoustic waves in a low-loss, scalable manner," said Marko Loncar, Tiantsai Lin Professor of Electrical Engineering at SEAS and senior author on a new paper published in Nature Electronics.

"In this study, we demonstrated that an integrated lithium niobate platform is capable of controlling acoustic waves, bringing us one step closer to an acoustic integrated circuit."

Acoustic waves for quantum and classical computing

Lithium niobate was used by Loncar and his colleagues to construct an on-chip electro-acoustic modulator that controls the acoustic waves on the chip. The modulator uses an electric field to control the phase, amplitude, and frequency of the sound waves.

"This work advances using acoustic waves for quantum and classical computing," said Linbo Shao, a former graduate student and postdocoral fellow at SEAS and the first author of the paper.

"Previous acoustic devices were passive, but now we have electrical modulation to actively tune the acoustic devices," said the author, "which allows for a lot of possibilities in the future development of microwave signal processing using these types of acoustic devices."

The researchers intend to develop more complex, large acoustic-wave circuits and quantum systems, according to Shao. The research "paving the way for high-performance acoustic-wave based devices and circuits for next-generation microwave signal processing as well as on-chip quantum networks and interfaces connecting different types of quantum systems."

Though it's a mouthful, all of this might prove useful sooner than expected. Earlier this month, Silicon Quantum Computing established the first integrated silicon quantum computer circuit at the atomic scale. Shortly after, the company's founder and director,Michelle Simmon, said commercial quantum computing products may be around five years away.

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