Science Without Frontiers: A Light on Tomorrow's Technology


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Future computers and other devices will probably use light instead of electrical currents to store and transmit information, thus increasing their capacity and speed. A group of Weizmann Institute scientists is working on a technique that may raise the storage capacity of devices that can hold optical signals, such as compact disks, by up to 50,000 times.

Conducting the project are Prof. Yehiam Prior, Dr. Gad Haase and Dr. Ilya Averbukh of the Chemical Physics Department and Prof. Avi Shanzer of the Organic Chemistry Department. Prior specializes in lasers and optics, Haase in scanning probe microscopy, Averbukh in energy transfer theory, and Shanzer in synthesizing "designer" molecules.

"We want to make optical signal storage possible and practical," says Prior, "and we need this mixture of specialties to succeed."

The scientists plan to achieve their goal by combining existing microscopy techniques for observing atoms with ways of manipulating energy transfer between molecules. Current microscopy methods use a sharp tip to observe atom-sized features on a surface. But while such methods can see (or "read") more or less well, they cannot alter the surface (or "write") reliably and cannot use optical signals directly.

The Institute scientists are developing a technique that aims to achieve, for the first time, practical "nanoreading" as well as "nanowriting" -- so called because they involve seeing and manipulating on the nano-scale, the scale of a billionth of a meter. They are studying several approaches in which they will use light to produce interactions between the tip and the molecules on the surface underneath. Sending the information as a series of light pulses while the tip scans the surface line by line would have the effect of "writing," or storing the information. Similarly, a scanning tip would enable this information to be "read" as a sequence of light pulses.

"This achievement will open a world of possibilities for the electronic devices both of today and of tomorrow," says Prior.