Light-Speed Computing

Lightmatter, a company founded by three MIT alumni, is aiming to increase the power of computing by rethinking the lifeblood of the chip. Instead of relying solely on electricity, the company also uses light for data processing and transport. The company’s first two products, a chip specializing in AI operations and an interconnect that facilitates data transfer between chips, use both photons and electrons to drive more efficient operations. The Envise chip takes the part of computing that electrons do well, like memory, and combines it with what light does well, like performing the massive matrix multiplications of deep-learning models. The Passage chip interconnect takes advantage of light’s latency and bandwidth advantages to link processors in a manner similar to how fiber optic cables use light to send data over long distances. Now the company is demonstrating its technology with some of the largest technology companies in the world in hopes of reducing the massive energy demand of data centers and AI models.

Contact: Abby Abazorius
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Dual-Energy Harvesting Device

Implantable biomedical devices — like pacemakers, insulin pumps and neurostimulators — are becoming smaller and utilizing wireless technology, but hurdles remain for powering the next-generation implants. A new wireless charging device developed by Penn State engineers could dramatically improve powering capability for implants while still being safe for our bodies. The new device can harvest energy from magnetic field and ultrasound sources simultaneously, converting this energy to electricity to power implants. It uses a two-step process for converting magnetic field energy to electricity. One layer is magnetostrictive, which converts a magnetic field into stress, and the other is piezoelectric, which converts stress, or vibrations, into an electric field. The combination allows the device to turn a magnetic field into an electric current. According to the team, this is the first device to harvest these dual-energy sources simultaneously with high efficiency and operate within the safety limits for human tissue. It also has implications for powering things like wireless sensor networks in smart buildings.

Contact: College of Engineering Media Relations
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Tiny Tunable Nanotubes

Producing nanotubes with specific properties is a challenge. Depending on how they’re rolled up, some nanotubes are considered metallic — meaning electrons can flow through them at any energy. The problem is they can’t be switched off. This limits their use in digital electronics, which use electrical signals that are either on or off to store binary states; just like silicon semiconductor transistors switch between 0 and 1 bits to carry out computations. A team of researchers at Duke University has found a way around this. The approach takes a metallic nanotube, which always lets current through, and transforms it into a semiconducting form that can be switched on and off. By wrapping a carbon nanotube with a ribbon-like polymer, they were able to create nanotubes that conduct electricity when struck with low-energy light that our eyes cannot see. In the future, the approach could make it possible to optimize semiconductors for applications ranging from night vision to new forms of computing.

Contact: Robin Smith
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