Scientists have developed a method that can give computers the ability to carry out superfast data processing using light pulses instead of electricity. The research, published in the journal Nature, shows that magnets can be used to record computer data which consume virtually zero energy.
The advance could possibly solve the problem of high energy costs accompanying data processing, according to researchers at the Lancaster University in the UK. Most data are encoded as binary information (0 or 1 respectively) through the orientation of tiny magnets, called spins, in magnetic hard-drives.
The magnetic read/write head is used to set or retrieve information using electrical currents which dissipate huge amounts of energy. The method replaces electricity with extremely short pulses of light — the duration of which is one trillionth of a second — concentrated by special antennas on top of the magnet, researchers said.
The new method is not only superfast but also energy efficient as the temperature of the magnet does not increase at all.
“The record-low energy loss makes this approach scalable,” said Rostislav Mikhaylovskiy from the Lancaster University.
Researchers said that the breakthrough was achieved by utilising the efficient interaction mechanism of coupling between spins and terahertz electric field.
A very small antenna on top of the magnet was developed to concentrate and thereby enhance the electric field of light. The strong local electric field is sufficient to navigate the magnetisation of the magnet to its new orientation in just one trillionth of a second.
The temperature of the magnet did not increase at all as this process requires energy of only one quantum of the terahertz light — a photon — per spin. The global electricity consumption for data centres lies between two per cent and five per cent, producing heat which in turn requires more power to cool the servers.
Tech-giants such as Microsoft have submerged hundreds of its data centre services in the ocean in an effort to keep them cool and cut costs.