Illustration of how electrons can be imagined to move between two arms of a metallic nanoantenna, driven by a single-cycle light wave. Credit: University of Konstanz
A European team of researchers including physicists from the University of Konstanz has found a way of transporting electrons at times below the femtosecond range by manipulating them with light. This could have major implications for the future of data processing and computing.
Contemporary electronic components, which are traditionally based on silicon semiconductor technology, can be switched on or off within picoseconds (i.e. 10-12 seconds). Standard mobile phones and computers work at maximum frequencies of several gigahertz (1 GHz = 109 Hz) while individual transistors can approach one terahertz (1 THz = 1012Hz). Further increasing the speed at which electronic switching devices can be opened or closed using the standard technology has since proven a challenge. A recent series of experiments—conducted at the University of Konstanz and reported in a recent publication in Nature Physics—demonstrates that electrons can be induced to move at sub-femtosecond speeds, i.e. faster than 10-15 seconds, by manipulating them with tailored light waves.