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Light-Emitting Particles Yield Faster Computing

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the naming-committee-receives-a-yellow-card dept.

Technology 65

schliz writes to tell us that researchers at the University of California San Diego are developing new transistors based on particles called 'excitons' in an attempt to speed up the interaction between computing and communications signals. "Excitons are formed by linking a negatively-charged electron with a positively-charged 'hole'. An exciton decays when the electron and hole combine, emitting a flash of light in the process. By joining exciton-based transistors to form several types of switches, the UCSD physicists were able to achieve switching times on the order of 200 picoseconds."

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Bright idea (3, Funny)

suck_burners_rice (1258684) | more than 6 years ago | (#23879985)

Excitons...hmmm, what a bright idea!

Totally different (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23880001)

wow what if there was a light emmitting particle used in computing....maybe with charge =-e, and spin 1/2...hey that might work great in silicon!

Re:Totally different (4, Funny)

Bandman (86149) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880087)

What a dopey idea ;-)

Re:Totally different (2, Funny)

CCFreak2K (930973) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880777)

How long did it take you to fabricate that pun?

Re:Totally different (1)

Bandman (86149) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880923)

Not long enough, given how bad it was

Re:Bright idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23880319)

I certainly find it very exciton.

Re:Bright idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23885661)

It's giving me a massive hadron.

Re:Bright idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23880893)

Excitons are formed by linking a negatively-charged electron with a positively-charged 'hole'.
Prior art: I feel pretty negatively charged after accidentally being exposed to the positively charged 'hole' in the goatse image!

Re:Bright idea (1)

jo42 (227475) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880971)

Just which clan of Transformers are the Excitons?

I take it by the name..... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23880085)

We're talking about a faster porn delivery system. This quote kind of says it all,

""Excitons are formed by linking a negatively-charged electron with a positively-charged 'hole'."

Re:I take it by the name..... (1)

dunnius (1298159) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880425)

We're talking about a faster porn delivery system. This quote kind of says it all,

""Excitons are formed by linking a negatively-charged electron with a positively-charged 'hole'."

I think it is a bit dangerous to mention "hole" and "porn" together in the same post.

Re:I take it by the name..... (1)

dorix (414150) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880913)

Why? Without at least one "hole", it's not very interesting "porn" to most people.

200 ps switch times != fast. (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23880097)

Hmmm.... 200 ps switch times.

A modern processor operating at 2GHz has one clock cycle every 500ps. A signal leaving a flop and travelling to another flop typically goes through about 20 gate delays, yielding a switch time of 500/20=25ps.

Tell me again how this is faster?

Re:200 ps switch times != fast. (2, Insightful)

halsver (885120) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880857)

It's not faster for transistors, but it is good for: Switching between mediums that rely on photons and those that rely on electrons to transmit information. Possible future uses: faster fiber to ethernet signal conversion and conversion in future-technology of photon based processors. Basically like the guy said earlier, faster porn.

Re:200 ps switch times != fast. (4, Insightful)

TopSpin (753) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880885)

Tell me again how this is faster?

No. Instead, address the relevant question; how much time is necessary to convert a signal leaving a flop into an optical signal using conventional methods as opposed to this supposedly new technique?

As the submission states, this is...

an attempt to speed up the interaction between computing and communications signals

and as the linked story, poor as it is, points out...

While exciton-based computation may not be faster than electron-based circuits, the scientists expect to produce speed advantages in communications

...I can only assume you have reading comprehension issues.

Re:200 ps switch times != fast. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23882009)

RTFA...
"
While exciton-based computation may not be faster than electron-based circuits, the scientists expect to produce speed advantages in communications between machines, or between different parts of a chip that are connected by an optical link.
"

Re:200 ps switch times != fast. (2, Interesting)

warrior (15708) | more than 6 years ago | (#23885189)

Compact 5GHz on-die optical links would be a godsend for global routing. Global routes typically take several cycles for all but toplevel metals. Even at the top of the stack it's getting harder to get everything where it needs to go in a single cycle due to higher RCs as dies scale down. If this technology is viable I'm sure they'll improve on that delay time as well.

Re:200 ps switch times != fast. (1)

JoCat (1291368) | more than 6 years ago | (#23889189)

...I can only assume you have reading comprehension issues.

Or he was mislead by a title that says, "Light-Emitting Particles YIELD FASTER COMPUTING"

excitons are not supposed to be faster switchers (4, Informative)

slew (2918) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880929)

Excitons are _not_ supposed to be faster switchers (it even says this in the article).

The value proposition is that they can switch at the same rate as electronic circuits, but where normal electronic circuits have slower interconnect, excitons based switching transistors can use faster interconnect.

Basically electrons traveling down wires travel only about 50-75% the speed of light (as I recall that's some phonon-limit). In addition, there with current MOSTFET transistor technology, the gates are voltage sensitive so you need to charge up the capacitance as well. If a exiton transitor emits a photons, the photon has the potential to travel faster (given the right interconnect medium up to near the speed of light) to the next switch resulting in overall faster computing.

In the short term, this could make some things easier transiting things from one chip to another chip (say a processor to a memory chip), between chips in a multi-chip module (using some inter-die optical interconnect layer), or even from one side of a chip to another (which takes longer than a clock cycle in todays advanced high-speed chips).

In the longer term, these types of breakthroughs may actually make computing faster. For example, if your computation involved no feedback, in principle, it would be limited by switching speed (and many circuit design techniques try to do this today by pipelining clocks with data in the same direction), but with feedback, you eventually become limited by circuit-to-circuit propagation delay (so-called wire-delay). This is probably what they are thinking about it helping, but that type of development is probably much further away.

Re:excitons are not supposed to be faster switcher (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23881169)

Basically electrons traveling down wires travel only about 50-75% the speed of light (as I recall that's some phonon-limit).
Crap. The electrical signal is propagated thru the wire at this speed, hence the term phonon limit. Phonons are quanta of physical vibration.
Individual electrons travel at much slower speeds in a wire, on the order of molecules in a gas between collisions.

Re:excitons are not supposed to be faster switcher (4, Informative)

kawdyr (1209648) | more than 6 years ago | (#23881235)

Basically electrons traveling down wires travel only about 50-75% the speed of light
Not to nitpick (very informative post), but the electrons themselves usually move at something around 1mm per second. It's only the signal that travels a significant fraction of the speed of light. Gratuitous Wikipedia reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_current#Current_in_a_metal_wire [wikipedia.org]

Re:excitons are not supposed to be faster switcher (1)

AllenL (1106377) | more than 6 years ago | (#23882619)

Electrons themselves do move at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light, but in random directions. The net movement of electrons (called the drift speed) is quite slow, however.

Re:excitons are not supposed to be faster switcher (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23882107)

You are looking for this link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velocity_of_propagation

Electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light in a vacuum. In copper wire it can be as low as 40% of the speed of light.

If I recall, converting from electricity to light and back was really slow, so this will help switching speeds, and thus internet bandwidth.

Here are some better articles (4, Informative)

statemachine (840641) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880107)

Because the one in the submission was fairly content free. You can come to your own conclusions about what its unattributed original source is.

Exciton-based circuits eliminate a 'speed trap' between computing and communication signals [physorg.com]
A wikipedia article, but still better than the submission [wikipedia.org]

I'm still scratching my head, but at least it's not drawing blood anymore.

Re:Here are some better articles (5, Informative)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880361)

The original source for this particular experiment is this [sciencemag.org] Science article. The submission was terrible. Press releases should be banned from any site which claims to have intelligent discussion.


An indirect exciton (what these guys are using) is made using three layers. In one layer, you have extra electrons (negative charges). In another layer, you have a lack of electrons (positive charges). In between those two is an insulating layer. If you tune the charge densities and some other parameters (temperature, for example), you can get the positive and negative charges in the two charged layers to align into pairs. Each pair is an exciton.


A normal exciton is a pair like this without the insulator between them. As you might imagine, they don't last very long and pretty much instantly combine. When an exciton combines, it gives off light at a very particular wavelength. Conversely, when light at that particular wavelength is adsorbed by the material, it creates an exciton.


You could imagine creating an exciton with light, making it an indirect exciton (so that it's stable), doing something with it, and then making it a normal exciton again and waiting the picosecond or so it takes for it to collapse and emit light. That's basically what they've done... but it's much harder than I've made it sound.

Re:Here are some better articles (2, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880495)

I did my best to vote it down, but obviously enough people disagreed. Press releases actually do have a place, IMHO, but only when it's something that is genuinely interesting and, well, genuine. Intel's 80 core CPU press release may or may not have qualified, as we can't know for sure if the wafer held up had 80 cores. ASUS' press release of using Linux in the BIOS was a real thing, so qualified for discussion.

Re:Here are some better articles (2, Interesting)

mikael (484) | more than 6 years ago | (#23881775)

I wonder if it would be possible to etch hollow channels on a circuit board and have photons bounce through them rather than just have electrons running through wires.

Re:Here are some better articles (1)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | more than 6 years ago | (#23882039)

Press releases should be banned

Hi! you must be new here.

Re:Here are some better articles (1)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 6 years ago | (#23882143)

Ha ha!

No, just frustrated with science journalism in general.

Re:Here are some better articles (4, Informative)

Bourgie59 (979410) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880407)

Here is the original abstract [sciencemag.org] and journal article [sciencemag.org] set to be published in Science [sciencemag.org] and already fast tracked to ScienceXpress [sciencemag.org]

Re:Here are some better articles (2, Interesting)

Dakhran (319216) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880457)

Also, the article sourced in the submission is apparently using a copyrighted image, that of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon 20th anniversary cover. IANAL, but it doesn't look like it's covered under fair use, either.

Holes vs. Positrons (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880173)

How does a "hole" differ from a positron? In fact, that was Dirac's initial model for a positron -- a hole in a sea of negative energy level electrons.

Re:Holes vs. Positrons (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23880275)

a positron is the antiparticle of an electron, having spin 1/2 and charge +e, while a "hole" is exactly what you've described; a hole in a sea of electrons.

Re:Holes vs. Positrons (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23880279)

That may have been the initial model. but today, positron is anti-electron and in semiconductor industry a hole is lack of electron. I haven't read the article (this is /. after all) but IMO the flash of light here is not due to annihilation of matter but due to the electron entering a lower energy state.

You are correct. (5, Interesting)

Xocet_00 (635069) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880581)

Disclaimer: I work in a lab that develops both transistors and photocells. I don't know exactly what they did, but based on the summary and the article, I'd surmise the following.

In an organic photocell an incoming photo will excite an electron. The positive and negative charges (electron and hole) will be "linked" together (i.e. they will move around together). In this state they are not useful. However, if you can separate them and draw them in different directions, then you'll get a current. They can only be drawn apart if you create a situation in which it is energetically favorable for them to separate, usually by attracting them to high and low work function contacts. Therefore, in a photocell of this type, you sandwich two materials together - one in which it is easy for holes to move, but difficult for electrons, and one in which it is easy for electrons to move, but difficult for holes (called the hole transport and electron transport layers). Then, you put a bias across the layers by using two dissimilar contact materials, one high work function and one low work function. Note that one contact needs to be transparent (ITO is most common) so photons can get to the middle layers.

Anyway, when an exciton is created it goes on a random walk through the material in which it is created, and will eventually collapse. The 'exciton diffusion length' is the distance over which your average exciton will move before collapsing. You want any created excitons to be within a diffusion length of the interface between the hole and electron transport layers. When the exciton hits an interface, it separates and the charges move towards their respective contacts. Put a load across the contacts, and you've got a working circuit (assuming excitons are being created).

This is a mildly simplified explanation, but it works.

Anyway, you can go the other way - imagine injecting an electron in one side and a hole into the other. You could choose your materials such that they would meet up at the interface and collapse together, emitting a photon. This is an OLED, and is conceptually similar to the photocells I just described.

So now imagine that you make it so that either the hole or electron transport layer is semiconducting. You could set up your device such that a dielectric layer and then a 'gate' contact are touching the transport layers along an axis perpendicular to the nominal current flow through your device (like in a thin-film transistor). Then, the layers would only transport charge (like in a transistor) and hence emit light (like in an OLED) when a voltage is applied to the gate contact. Then you have a thin-film device across which you put a bias that only emits light (and draws current) when it is switched 'on' by the gate contact.

In other words, you've combined a TFT with an OLED. Very, very slick.

Re:Holes vs. Positrons (3, Informative)

barometz (1307743) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880283)

The hole is not a particle, it's merely a spot in some piece of matter where an electron could pop in to make everything nice and neutral.

Re:Holes vs. Positrons (3, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880339)

a hole is an area deficient of at least one electron, a positron O.T.O.H is a particle of antimatter that reacts with an electron to form gamma radiation at 1022 kev

Re:Holes vs. Positrons (1)

Bloater (12932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880371)

How does a "hole" differ from a positron?

Its rest mass.

Re:Holes vs. Positrons (2, Informative)

Goaway (82658) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880481)

An electron hole is a lack of positive-energy electrons. A positron in the Dirac model is a lack of a negative-energy electron.

Re:Holes vs. Positrons (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 6 years ago | (#23881895)

Thank you.

To all the others, I'm well aware of what a positron is. I was pointing out that a positron could be modeled as parent mentioned.

Re:Holes vs. Positrons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23882867)

This is the best answer of the bunch. Holes were so non-intuitive last I took Solid State. Positrons are understandable because in a way they represent a double-negative (deexcitation of a negative energy state) and so other than charge they behave pretty normally.

Holes, on the other hand, have weird sign conventions in their wave vectors, response to fields, etc. Sometimes they behave like an electron and sometimes they don't.

There's really no good reference for this subject, unfortunately, but if you wanted to read a book it would be Ashcroft and Mermin.

Re:Holes vs. Positrons (4, Informative)

camperdave (969942) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880549)

How does a "hole" differ from a positron?

A positron is a real particle with real mass. It is made up of quarks and has the same characteristics as an electron, except that it's charge is reversed.

A "hole", on the other hand, is essentially the absence of an electron where one should be. It's like those sliding puzzles with the 15 tiles that you have to arrange in numerical order. There should be 16 tiles, but one is "missing" creating a hole. This hole moves around by sliding tiles into it.

A similar thing happens in the silicon of a semiconductor. Ideal silicon is a regular grid of molecules that have exactly enough electrons to fill each other's electron shells. With P-type semiconductors, a small chemical impurity is introduced into the silicon grid. This impurity does not have enough electrons to share with the surrounding atoms. So, like the sliding tile puzzle, there is a "hole", a place where an electron could fit. By applying a voltage to the silicon, the hole can be made to move along the grid.

N-type semiconductors are built the same way, except that the impurity that is added to the silicon has an extra electron. This roam around the silicon grid looking for a spot to settle, much like the last kid in a game of musical chairs. The electron can also be moved around by applying a voltage to the silicon.

Now, if you have a mix of P-type and N-type, what happens is that the extra electron in the N-type eventually settles into the "hole" of the P-type. In doing that the electron loses a certain amount of energy, which is emitted as a photon. However, in doing so, it has induced a charge in the semiconductor. The P-type now has more electrons than protons (they were balanced before, despite the presense of the "hole"), and the N-type now has less electrons than protons (it too was balanced before, despite the "extra" electron). This charge imbalance makes it easy for a photon to come along and pop the electron out of the hole and back to the N-type.

By varying the quantities of impurites, and where, and how thick the transitions between P-Type and N-Type silicon, the clever engineers can make all sorts of semiconductor devices.

Re:Holes vs. Positrons (4, Informative)

AdamHaun (43173) | more than 6 years ago | (#23881059)

Electrons and positrons aren't made of quarks. They're fundamental particles.

Correct! (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 6 years ago | (#23881321)

Electrons and positrons aren't made of quarks. They're fundamental particles.

You're right! My bad. I was under the impression that all of the "classic" atomic particles (protons, neutrons, and electrons) were made of quarks.

Re:Correct! (1)

AdamHaun (43173) | more than 6 years ago | (#23882277)

Just protrons and neutrons. Electrons, quarks, and neutrinos, along with their antiparticles and possibly supersymmetric counterparts and the bosons (photons, etc.) are the most fundamental particles known today.

Re:Holes vs. Positrons (1)

the_olo (160789) | more than 6 years ago | (#23897977)

More specifically, electrons [wikipedia.org] are leptons [wikipedia.org] , which are a kind of fermions [wikipedia.org] .

Quarks [wikipedia.org] are the other type of fermions [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Holes vs. Positrons (1)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 6 years ago | (#23881299)

How does a "hole" differ from a positron?

A positron is a real particle with real mass. It is made up of quarks and has the same characteristics as an electron, except that it's charge is reversed.

A "hole", on the other hand, is essentially the absence of an electron where one should be. It's like those sliding puzzles with the 15 tiles that you have to arrange in numerical order. There should be 16 tiles, but one is "missing" creating a hole. This hole moves around by sliding tiles into it.

But explain how an experiment could distinguish between a lack of a negative-enegery electron (in a quantum see of them, not just a semiconductor) and a positron

Re:Holes vs. Positrons (2, Informative)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 6 years ago | (#23881575)

But explain how an experiment could distinguish between a lack of a negative-enegery electron (in a quantum see of them, not just a semiconductor) and a positron

You wouldn't have one in a quantum sea of them. The hole is basically a missing electron in an otherwise full valence band. You have to be talking about semiconductors or similar chemical contexts for the concept to make any sense.

A positron, on the other hand, is a particle that could exist on its own in a vacuum.

Re:Holes vs. Positrons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23881009)

Holes define who we are, and where we are going.

FYI: An exiton is just an imaginary particle. (3, Informative)

viking80 (697716) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880357)

An exiton is just an electron "bounced" out of its location, leaving a positively charged hole behind. The negative electron and the positive hole (the imaginary particle) pair forms an "exotic atom" state similar to a hydrogne atom, but with a much lower binding energy and a much larger size.

This behavior is the standard behavior semiconductors.

It appears the difference here is that when the electron/hole pair reunites, a photon is emitted.

This appear awfully close to what an LED is, and the article is void of any information to distinguish this component from the LED.

Re:FYI: An exiton is just an imaginary particle. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23880405)

200ps?

sounds like about how long most of you geeks last when you finally get to put your exciton in a hole

Re:FYI: An exiton is just an imaginary particle. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23882253)

I know women like to talk after sex, but I'd imagine 200 incidental comments would constitute as torture to death by boredom.

Re:FYI: An exiton is just an imaginary particle. (2, Funny)

StarReaver (1070668) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880415)

So...Adding more LEDs to a computer make it faster?

Re:FYI: An exiton is just an imaginary particle. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23880561)

Duh..

Re:FYI: An exiton is just an imaginary particle. (2, Funny)

FeepingCreature (1132265) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880787)

Well, not just any LEDs.
Red ones.

Re:FYI: An exiton is just an imaginary particle. (1)

amnezick (1253408) | more than 6 years ago | (#23883297)

yes it does. when i upgraded from single (dusty) core to core2duo i also bought some nicely coloured leds to mount inside the case and my pc was at least twice as fast as before.

oh .. now that i think about it ....

Re:FYI: An exiton is just an imaginary particle. (2, Funny)

Exiton (1244590) | more than 6 years ago | (#23880685)

It's true, I'm not really here.

Re:FYI: An exiton is just an imaginary particle. (3, Interesting)

comingstorm (807999) | more than 6 years ago | (#23881407)

You're right, this is basically a fancy LED. The difference seems to be that they're exercising control over when the holes and electrons recombine, in order to switch it off and on much faster.

In a regular LED, you have to flood the diode with minority carriers, and wait for them to recombine spontaneously, which presumably has a nice long time constant, so you can't actually turn it off and on very easily...

In this exciton thing, they're letting the minority carriers combine into excitons first, which (somehow) lets them control the recombination more precisely, and allows them to switch it off and on directly with the current.

In high-speed communications, they use lasers, which are basically LED's where the recombination is accelerated by stimulated emission, instead of spontaneous emission. You can look at the exciton thing as an attempt to do the same thing more cheaply, and on a smaller scale.

Vacuum tubes (0, Offtopic)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 6 years ago | (#23881001)

My guitar amp works on vacuum tubes. Basically, the negatively charged cathode emits electrons when heated, creating a "space charge" in the area. In the recto tube (responsible for the characteristic "Sag" effect due to reaction delays when current demand jumps) this floats across to the positively charged anode and gets siphoned away; in a triode or beam tetrode or pentode or whatever else, a grid manages the flow.

I've used a MOSFET as a source follower, the source being the negative source of course, to supply current flow to the Baxandall tone stack. Basically, the MOSFET has a positively doped channel, and a negatively doped source and drain. The source and drain contain many electrons, while the channel contains holes. Applying a charge to the grid causes P material to form an N channel allowing electron flow. In a P channel MOSFET this works the other way. (it's hard for me to explain this, the above is likely wrong)

In a BJT, an NPN has two negative electron-filled materials and a P material filled with holes. A PNP has two areas of holes, and one of electrons.

A silicon diode uses a region full of electrons (anode), and a region full of holes (cathode).

Guess what? Everything works on electrons and holes (holes don't move)!

So they use LED tech to transmit signals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23881069)

How is that new?

Basically this means a faster internet, yes? (1)

HJED (1304957) | more than 6 years ago | (#23881737)

Basically this means a faster internet, yes?
because if this method can be used to convert photons into electrons quicker it means there will be less internet bottle necks because the backbone is fibre but is controlled by electronic computers

Re:Basically this means a faster internet, yes? (1)

The MESMERIC (766636) | more than 6 years ago | (#23882153)

I still don't get it .. :(

The question really needs to be asked... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23881805)

How will it perform within a Beowulf cluster?

Re:The question really needs to be asked... (1)

amnezick (1253408) | more than 6 years ago | (#23883333)

don't forget the almighty "will it run linux?" !

That's not fast... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23881977)

That's not very fast, actually.

1/200e-9 is only 5GHz. And that's a single transistor, not a processor. 200GHz+ for a single transistor is possible with current transistor processes.

More importantly, how does this help power dissipation? This is our primary concern. If they can run at 5GHz with extremely little power, then it might be useful.

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