In short: Utilizing the optical properties of transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDCs) could improve some aspects of computers by a millionfold, according to a recent study out of the University of Georgia published in the journal Physical Review B. Specifically, the materials would reduce the timescales associated with reading, writing, and processing data from fractions of nanoseconds to femtoseconds since those would utilize light rather than standard electronics. For clarity, that would essentially move the standard from working in terms of billionths of a second to operating at a scale measured in millionths of one billionth of a second. That would, the researchers say, result in computing, storage, and memory speeds being improved by a million times.
Background: The researchers on the TMDC project, led by Georgia State Director of the Center for Nano-Optics and Regents' Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy Dr. Mark Stockman, reached the conclusion by discovering and studying the optical properties of TMDCs. As noted by Dr. Stockman and borne out in the real world, the design of computers has shifted toward adding more processors to a stack instead of making substantial headway with the processors themselves. Within the atoms-thick hexagonal lattice structure of the TMDCs described – comprised of transition metal atoms sandwiched between two layers of chalcogen atoms – the spin of electrons is either to the left or right depending on their position. That creates a topological resonance that can be read and written by a computer – or other computer-driven hardware. What's more, the materials have been described as "stable, non-toxic, thin, light and mechanically strong." So they could feasibly be much more easy to work with than more radical approaches to speeding up computers.
Impact: The team says that the computers created using the discovery would operate in a way that's fundamentally different than how current processors and memory work. So it appears as though putting this research to work would require an overhaul of nearly every aspect of computing systems. Bearing that in mind, the implication is that the use of TMDCs in computers and components that are a million times faster is not a prospect for the near-term. Instead, the study shows just one more direction that the minds behind the ever-advancing wave of smartphones, tablets, and computers could choose to take in moving the technology forward.