Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Now for something completely different

After a month of poems, I’m going to switch to science and engineering again – but I’ll try to be a little more regular than last autumn. 

Two things have triggered this. Firstly, I did some practice interviews at The Misbourne in December. The students were in their GCSE year and were looking at opportunities for further education. Some were hoping to continue in school to do A-levels, others were looking at colleges. One of the questions I asked the students was “what is your favourite subject?” Rather surprisingly (perhaps) a large proportion answered “Maths”! Wow isn't that great? I think they have a new inspirational Maths teacher – just shows what good teaching does. At least one of my interviewees was thinking about engineering as a career.

The other prompt is an announcement from my old company: IBM Research has announced that they have developed Silicon Integrated Nanophotonics technology to the stage that these chips can be manufactured by the standard semiconductor fabrication methods. Nanophotonics is basically using optical transmission of signals (like fibre optics) within and between integrated circuit elements. As with long-distance communications, where fibre optics have transformed reliability and speed of connections, this technology is faster and more reliable than electrical connections. Incidentally, on the former, have you noticed that the delays in transatlantic and similar long-distance communications, which were a regular occurrence in radio and TV interviews a few years ago, have now virtually disappeared? The delays were caused by transmission times using geosynchronous orbit satellites. Presumably these links now use fibre optic cables.

Cross-sectional view of an IBM Silicon Nanophotonics chip combining optical and electrical circuits

The nanophotonics connections allow a data rate that exceeds 25Gbps – that’s 10,000 times faster than our broadband connection here in Little Hampden. The other big advantage of fibre optics – and of nanophotonics – is that a single connection can carry multiple signals by using different wavelengths to carry each one. I don’t think we’ll be seeing these chips on our PCs or tablets – but who knows? Technology is always advancing at an increasing rate.

There’s more information on the IBM web site – click here.

1 comment:

rosie said...

I remember many years ago having a young man in my home group who was dong his PhD on Fibre optics in communication, and it was cutting edge -look where we are now! We need this speed of development in the field of energy!