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IBM's integrated silicon nanophotonics transceiver on a chip; optical waveguides are highlighted here in blue, and the copper conductors of the electronic components in yellow.

IBM Research

IBM has developed a technology that integrates optical communications and electronics in silicon, allowing optical interconnects to be integrated directly with integrated circuits in a chip. That technology, called silicon nanophotonics, is now moving out of the labs and is ready to become a product. It could potentially revolutionize how processors, memory, and storage in supercomputers and data centers interconnect.

Silicon nanophotonics were first demonstrated by IBM in 2010 as part of IBM Research's efforts to build Blue Waters, the NCSA supercomputer project that the company withdrew from in 2011. But IBM Research continued to develop the technology, and today announced that it was ready for mass production. For the first time, the technology "has been verified and manufactured in a 90-nanometer CMOS commercial foundry," Dr. Solomon Assefa, Nanophotonics Scientist for IBM Research, told Ars.

A single CMOS-based nanophotonic transceiver is capable of converting data between electric and optical with virtually no latency, handling a data connection of more than 25 gigabits per second. Depending on the application, hundreds of transceivers could be integrated into a single CMOS chip, pushing terabits of data over fiber-optic connections between processors, memory, and storage systems optically over distances ranging from two centimeters to two kilometers.

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Enlarge / Scanning electron micrograph of graphene, showing the hexagonal structure of the single layer of carbon atoms.

Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory

Graphene—a two-dimensional sheet of carbon one atom thick—is exciting stuff. Combining good electrical properties, flexibility, mechanical strength, and other advantages, graphene can seem like a miracle material, especially when potential applications are listed. Talk of graphene-based protective coatings, flexible transparent electronics, super powerful capacitors, and so forth may seem like something from a Neal Stephenson science fiction novel, but they've all been seriously considered.

The material's potential is so high that its discovery merited the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics, awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. Certainly my fellow Ars Technica writers and I have spilled a lot of digital ink on the subject.

However, with so much excitement, you would be forgiven for wondering if at least some of it is hype. (After all, graphene has been around for a number of years, but we don't have our transparent computers yet.) For this reason, Nobel Laureate Konstantin Novoselov and colleagues have written a critical, yet optimistic, assessment of the state of graphene research and production.

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