Electronic computing and communications have come a very long way from the days of radiotelegraphy and vacuum tubes, with consumer devices now featuring levels of processing power and memory that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago.
However, as computing and information processing devices become smaller and more powerful, they come up against some fundamental limitations imposed by the laws of quantum physics. The future of the field could lie in photonics – the light-based parallel to electronics. Photonics is similar in theory to electronics, but replacing electrons with photons, and photonic devices may be able to process data much faster than their electronic counterparts, including for quantum computers.
A new photonic chip developed at Caltech could represent an important breakthrough for the field, particularly for enabling quantum photonic information processors. It can generate and measure quantum states of light in a way that was previously only possible with bulky and expensive laboratory equipment.
The chip is based on lithium niobite, a salt whose crystals have many uses in optics. It creates so-called squeezed light states on one side of the chip and measures them on the other side. Put very simply, a squashed state of light is light when it has been made less “noisy” at the quantum level. Recently, squashed light states have been used to increase the sensitivity of LIGO, the observatory that uses laser beams to detect gravitational waves.
Alireza Marandi, assistant professor of electrical engineering and applied physics at Caltech. “Our work marks an important step in the generation and measurement of quantum states of light in an integrated photonic circuit.”
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