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Waveguides May Replace Wires in Future Computers

If you have wondered how chip manufacturers move data at gigabit per second rates inside microprocessor chips, the simple answer would be “with difficulty.” As computer speeds increase, chip designers have had to deal with attenuation due to capacitance from the interconnects to ground and interaction with other devices on the chip. New technology, including graphene transistors, will allow smaller devices, but interconnects will remain a problem.

University of Utah engineers may have a solution for interconnects in superfast computers operating at terahertz frequencies ranging from 0.1 terahertz (100 gigahertz) to 10 terahertz: That’s waveguides!

In a University of Utah news release, Getting Wired for Terahertz, Ajay Nahata, a study leader and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering said, “Eventually—in a minimum of 10 years—this will allow the development of superfast circuits, computers and communications.”

Nahata and his research team used stainless steel foil sheets with patterns of perforations that served as wire-like waveguides to transmit, bend, split or combine the terahertz signals.

“If terahertz radiation is to be used in computing and communication, it not only must be transmitted from one device to another, but you have to process it,” Nahata said. “This is where terahertz circuits are important. The long-term goal is to develop capabilities to create circuits that run faster than modern-day electronic circuits so we can have faster computers and faster data transfer via the Internet.”

The researchers demonstrated transmission of terahertz signals in straight lines, splitting the signals, and using two lines that curved close to each other to work as a coupler.

“All we’ve done is made the wires [for terahertz circuits],”said Nahata. “Now the issue is, how do we make devices [such as switches, transistors and modulators] at terahertz frequencies?” Additional information, including pictures of the devices, is available in the news release Getting Wired for Terahertz.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.