When Water Outpaces Silicon…


On target: Water is fanned out through a specially developed nozzle, and then a laser pulse is passed through it to create a switch. (Courtesy: Adrian Buchmann)

Topics: Applied Physics, Lasers, Materials Science, Photonics, Semiconductor Technology

A laser-controlled water-based switch that operates twice as fast as existing semiconductor switches has been developed by a trio of physicists in Germany. Adrian Buchmann, Claudius Hoberg, and Fabio Novelli at Ruhr University Bochum used an ultrashort laser pulse to create a temporary metal-like state in a jet of liquid water. This altered the transmission of terahertz pulses over timescales of just tens of femtoseconds.

With the latest semiconductor-based switches approaching fundamental upper limits on how fast they can operate, researchers are searching for faster ways of switching signals. One unexpected place to look for inspiration is the curious behavior of water under extreme conditions – like those deep within ice-giant planets or created by powerful lasers.

Molecular dynamics simulations suggest water enters a metallic state at pressures of 300 GPa and temperatures of 7000 K. While such conditions do not occur on Earth, it is possible that this state contributes to the magnetic fields of Uranus and Neptune. To study this effect closer to home, recent experiments have used powerful, ultrashort laser pulses to trigger photo-ionization in water-based solutions – creating fleeting, metal-like states.

Water-based switch outpaces semiconductor devices, described in APL Photonics.

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