Computer chip breakthrough uses sound to transmit data

Researchers at Harvard University have developed a new kind of chip, transmitting data through sound waves.

Computer chips and circuits send and process data by modulating a medium, typically using electrons, which are modulated by components such as transistors to encode data as ones and zeroes. 

Photonic chips, which modulate photons of light and send them down waveguides to transmit data have previously been developed, with the new acoustic chip working in a similar way to photonic chips by using sound waves instead of light waves. 

The Harvard team created a modulator out of lithium niobate, changing its elasticity in response to an electric field and producing acoustic waves. 

The modulator can control the phase, amplitude and frequency of the acoustic waves through careful adjustment of the electric field, encoding data before sending it through waveguides. 

The team claim that the acoustic wave chips do not interfere with each other and interact effectively with other parts of the systems they are used in. 

With the first acoustic chip operational, the team is aiming to develop more complex acoustic wave circuits, investigating how to connect them to quantum computer components such as superconducting qubits. 

Marko Loncar, senior author, Harvard SEAS, commented: “Acoustic waves are promising as on-chip information carriers for both quantum and classical information processing but the development of acoustic integrated circuits has been hampered by the inability to control acoustic waves in a low-loss, scalable manner. 

“In this work, we showed we can control acoustic waves on an integrated lithium niobate platform, bringing us one step closer to an acoustic integrated circuit.”

Photo credit: Linbo Shao/Harvard SEAS

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