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By: MarkJ - 10 May, 2011 (12:42 PM)
extremeband graphene optical modulatorScientists working at the University of California (Berkeley) have managed to demonstrate a new breed of graphene based optical modulators that could lead to a new generation of ultrafast broadband internet access services, which the team have already labelled 'Extremeband'. Well we've used up "super" and "ultra", so perhaps "extreme" was the next logical step in marketing slogans.

Graphene itself is a one-atom-thick layer of crystallized carbon, while optical modulators are not unlike a super small but sophisticated switch for beams of light. Apparently the team, which is being led by engineering professor Xiang Zhang, were able to achieve a modulation speed of 1Gigahertz using the new method. However, they noted that the speed could theoretically reach as high as 500Gigahertz for a single modulator.

Amazingly the team were able to successfully shrink a graphene-based optical modulator down to a relatively tiny 25 square microns (roughly 400 times smaller than a human hair). By comparison a typical commercial modulator could be as large as a few square millimetres.

Engineering Professor, Xiang Zhang, said:

"Graphene-based modulators not only offer an increase in modulation speed, they can enable greater amounts of data packed into each pulse. Instead of broadband, we will have 'extremeband.'

What we see here and going forward with graphene-based modulators are tremendous improvements, not only in consumer electronics, but in any field that is now limited by data transmission speeds, including bioinformatics and weather forecasting. We hope to see industrial applications of this new device in the next few years."

In theory the new solution could help to break the current speed limits in digital communications. Despite their super small size the new modulators can still carry more data than existing ones because they are able to absorb a broad spectrum of light; including ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths.
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