Graphene switches could enable faster internet

Researchers in the UK have shown that a few layers of graphene stacked on top of each other could act as a formidable material for optical switches, delivering internet speeds up to 100 times faster than is currently possible.

Every day large amounts of information is transmitted and processed through optoelectronic devices such as optical fibres, photodetectors and lasers. Signals are sent by photons at infrared wavelengths and processed using optical switches, which convert signals into a series of light pulses.

Ordinarily, optical switches respond at a rate of a few picoseconds – around a trillionth of a second. Through this study, physicists from the university of Exeter and Bath have observed the response rate of an optical switch using 'few layer graphene' to be around one hundred femtoseconds – nearly a hundred times quicker than current materials.

Lead researcher Dr Enrico Da Como explained: "We've seen an ultra fast optical response rate, using 'few layer graphene', which has exciting applications for the development of high speed optoelectronic components based on graphene.

"This fast response is in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, where many applications in telecommunications, security and also medicine are currently developing and affecting our society."

As well as significantly faster telecommunications, Dr Da Como says the breakthrough could be an important step toward the development of graphene based quantum cascade lasers, which could be used for anything from breathalysers and medical diagnostic devices to collision avoidance technology.

Laura Hopperton

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