How Lasers Could Revolutionize the Internet

Researchers at University of California San Diego are hard at work, attempting to find a sustainable solution to growing issues surrounding the internet and data management. Data centers consume a significant amount of electricity and are currently projected to consume close to 140 billion kilowatt hours per year, in the U.S. alone.  Much of this power is converted into heat, requiring multiple backup systems. Simply, the issue is not so much that we are transmitting too much data, it is that data storage is not an efficient, renewable process.

Janelle Shane and her team of researchers at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego are working on a possible solution: laser technology. Increasing the amount of electricity in a wire causes the wires to heat up and interfere with the processes of other wires. As the demand for faster internet, and the amount of data transmitted increases, the limits of using electricity will likely plateau.

Unless, of course, light was used instead. The researchers found that if information is transferred from place to place, via light, using fibers made of glass, more data could fit onto a strand. Since different colors of light can each transfer different information, the potential multiplies. Not to mention that fiber optic cables do not have the same interference and heat issues posed by electrical wires.

Shane and team are not just interested in a faster, more sustainable internet. The team has also looked into the benefits of fiber optics within computers, not just between them. The team is working on creating lasers thinner than human hair, designed to fit onto a computer chip. Utilizing technology that small is no easy task. Something as simple as a dust speck out of place could disrupt any chance of success. The researchers are also challenged by the size of the semiconductor; a small semiconductor means a less powerful laser.

Using fiber optic cables might be the solution, however. The glass inside the cable makes light bounce off of its sides, as it travels.  In larger scale tests, the light bounces back and forth, outside of the laser, eventually reaching its original point. Successfully shrinking this down to smaller examples would make Shane and team’s goals of fast, sustainable data transfer a reality.

As more and more internet service providers move in the direction of fiber optic internet, the implementation of lasers to transmit data could quickly become a matter of “When?” rather than “How?” If the past can serve as any example, the amount of data transferred is only going to increase, and with that, demands for faster speeds will also be on the rise. Should Shane and team’s research prove successful, we will likely see a brighter technological future, brought to you by laser technology.

About the Author
Steven Glover is a proud member of the LIA staff. When he is not at work he is actively involved in several charitable efforts.
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