Plasmonics - a possible replacement for current computing approaches - may pave the way for the next generation of computers that operate faster and store more information than electronically-based systems and are smaller than optically-based systems, according to Tony Jun Huang, a Penn State engineer who has developed a plasmonic switch. "Plasmonics combines the speed and capacity of photonic circuits with the small size of electronic circuits," said Huang. He suggests that applications like YouTube, which are very popular but have terrible resolution, could become places to see high-resolution images.

Huang's team created a plasmonic switch from switchable bistable rotaxanes. Rotaxanes are complex molecules that consist of a dumbbell shape with a ring or rings encircling the shaft and are sometimes called molecular machines. The ring can either move from one end of the barbell to the other or rotate around the shaft. Changes in molecular shape are the basis of the plasmonic switch. The switches are activated by a chemical process, however, this is not the optimal choice for a working circuit. "Creation of a plasmonic circuit is probably five years away," Huang said.

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