Cantu: Computing at the speed of light

August 6, 2015


For Sergio Cantu, a second-year PhD student in physics, the future of computing is one in which information moves at the speed of light, and through a network with unparalleled security. In Cantu’s eyes, much of this future is predicated on lasers — which he’s worked with not only as a graduate student, but as an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Brownsville and in the year after graduating, as a student in MIT’s Physics Bridge Program, which aims to facilitate students’ transition to PhD coursework. It was during the latter experience that he first set foot in MIT’s Center for Ultracold Atoms, where he conducts research today. Cantu uses light as an information carrier in computing and calculating. Because of light’s unmatched speed, it could support extremely fast and efficient computing, well beyond our current capabilities. But, he cautions, light comes with challenges — many of which are caused by its very speed.

“It doesn’t slow down, it’s always moving, and that makes it very hard to use as a carrier of information,” Cantu says. “How do you imprint information on something that you can’t pin down?”

One of the techniques that Cantu and his colleagues use is called electromagnetically induced transparency. This technique allows scientists to slow the speed of propagation of light, while it travels through an atomic gas, to about 100 meters per second, more than a million times slower than the speed of light in a vacuum. This allows him to manipulate matter — clusters of atoms — one unit of light at a time. Light doesn’t like to interact with much — sometimes not even with itself — but Cantu and his team can map specific interactions between light and atoms, at the level of individual photons, and use that as a way to transmit and exchange information. Read the full article at MIT News

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