Researchers at IBM have used microscopic carbon molecules to emit light, a breakthrough that could replace silicon as the foundation of chips and lead to faster computers and telecommunication equipment.
The focus of the research team was minute, tube-shaped carbon molecules, or nanotubes, which are more than 50,000 times thinner than an average human hair. The scientists were able to engineer the carbon nanotubes, not only to conduct current but also to emit light.
Light, already the foundation of today's high-speed communication networks, could someday be used to process data in computers and other electronic devices, as engineers run out of ways to cram more performance into silicon chips.
The company is publishing a report on its research work on carbon nanotube light emission in the May 2 issue of Science magazine.
IBM's solid-state light emitter, which the company says is the worlds smallest, is a single nanotube, measuring 1.4 nanometers in diameter and configured into a three-terminal transistor.
The research team detected light with a wavelength of 1.5 micrometers, one that is already widely used in optical communications, IBM said. Nanotubes with different diameters could generate light with different wavelengths used in other applications.