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Harvard’s acoustic computer chip uses sound waves to encode data

Traditional computer chips run on electricity, while the emerging photonic chips use light. Today, Harvard scientists are demonstrating a new type of chip that transmits data in the form of sound waves.

Computer chips and circuits transmit and process data by modulating a particular medium. Most of the time the medium is electrons, its flow is modulated by components such as transistors to encode the data as and zero-high or low current. Recently, photonic chips have been developed that modulate photons of light and send them in narrow channels called waveguides to transmit data around the chip.

The new acoustic chip operates in a similar way to the latter, with sound waves instead of light waves. The team made a modulator from a material called lithium niobate, which changes its elasticity in response to an electric field and produces acoustic waves. By carefully adjusting that field, the modulator can control the phase, amplitude and frequency of acoustic waves, encoding its data before sending it to the waveguides.

The team says acoustic wave chips have some potential advantages over those that use electromagnetic waves. They are easy to confine to small waveguide structures, they do not interfere with each other, and they interact strongly with other parts of the system they use.

“Acoustic waves promise as on-chip information carriers for quantum and classical information processing but the development of acoustic integrated circuits is hampered by the inability to control acoustic waves in a low-loss, scalable manner,” Marko said. Loncar, senior author of the study. “In this work, we show that we can control acoustic waves on the integrated lithium niobate platform, bringing us one step closer to an acoustic integrated circuit.”

With this first active acoustic wave chip functional, the team is working to build more complex acoustic wave circuits, and investigate how they can connect to quantum computer components such as superconducting qubits.

The research was published in the journal Nature Electronics.

Source: Harvard University

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