Before it reaches your internet browser, data must race through long stretches of fibers. It travels as pulses of light, and the faster it can be converted into light, the faster data can reach you. Researchers at the University of Bath and Exeter announced today that they have made the conversion process 100 times faster with graphene, an emerging material made of a single layer of carbon atoms.
A device known as an optical switch is responsible for converting the information from the lower-frequency infrared range to visible light. These switches must contain a semiconductor. The researchers discovered that by using graphene as the semiconductor, they could dramatically speed the optical switch’s response time to 100 times faster than the trillionth of a second it takes with current semiconductors.
The carbon atoms that make up graphene are arranged in a repeating pattern of hexagons. Despite being just an atom thick, graphene is incredibly strong, light and flexible. Its conductive properties also make it attractive for use in electronics.
The researchers used several layers of graphene in the optical switch because they found it made the conversion time faster than a single layer. Graphene becomes less conductive as it gets thicker, but can still compete with other conductive materials.
“The more we find out about graphene the more remarkable its properties seem to be. This research shows that it also has unique optical properties which could find important new applications,” University of Bath professor Simon Bending said in a release.
The researchers believe further work with graphene could lead to applications such as pollution monitoring and advanced security.