A new £6 million research programme into nanoplasmonic devices has been launched at Queen’s and Imperial College London. Nanaplasmonic devices’ key components are tiny nanoscale metal structures, more than 100 times smaller than the width of a human hair. They are designed to guide and direct light.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is funding the two universities in an attempt to establish a world-leading research programme into the possible uses of these devices.
There is hope that the structures could be used in new kinds of super-high-speed ‘optical’ computers, which would process information using light signals rather than the electrical currents used by today’s computers.
In order to achieve this, scientists at both universities are developing a host of new nanoscale devices, including tiny sources of light, nanoscale ‘waveguides’ to direct the light along a certain route, and receivers to process the signals.
Professor Anatoly Zayats, from the Queen’s University Centre for Nanostructured Media, is heading the programme in Ireland. He emphasized the preliminary nature of the research, saying that “This is basic research into how light interacts with matter on the nanoscale. But we will work together with and listen to our industrial partners to direct research in the direction that hopefully will lead to new improved products and services that everyone can buy from the shelf.”
His colleague Stefan Maier, who will lead the research team in London, echoed these sentiments. “This is an exciting step towards developing computers that use light waves, not electrical current, to handle data and process information. In the future these optical computers will provide us with more processing power and higher speed. This will also open the door to a world of possibilities in scientific fields at the interface with the biosciences, and perhaps even in the world of personal computing.”