This revolutionary chip uses sound waves instead of electrons

This very interesting proof of concept could make a lot of noise in the small world of quantum computers.

Researchers at the prestigious Harvard University have just unveiled a unique computer chip. Unlike traditional circuits, where the information moves thanks to the electric current, this machine works on very different physical basis; the information is transported there by sound waves.

The concept is surprising as this discipline now seems inseparable from this operation based on the transfer of electric charge. However, the conceptual bases of this technology, as defined by its founder Alan Turing, are completely independent of electricity.

A computer is not necessarily based on electricity

More than the transfer mode, this is what is important for building a computer logic. To earn this title, the machine must be able to store information and deal with them through series of operations based on instructions issued by the user.

As long as these conditions are met, the exact nature of the support and the vectors of the information do not matter. It is possible to process this information by changing the state of a transistor with an electric charge, as is the case in the device you are reading this article about. But it could just as well be vulgar pieces of wood set in motion by a crank!

In this case, it is sound waves. And if Harvard researchers have taken the trouble to explore this concept, which at first glance seems far-fetched, it’s not just for the pleasure of producing an extraordinary object. This approach based on sound waves has certain significant benefits.

Sound waves, a very promising vector of information

Electric current is a formidable vector of information. But he also tends to do as he pleases. It can easily go the wrong way if given the opportunity, for example by a short circuit. This requires manufacturers to take a wide range of precautions when designing these circuits to prevent the current from moving in an anarchic manner.

Sound waves, on the other hand, are much more ” easy to limit in nanoscale structures “, The researchers explain. In addition, they also have the advantage that they interact very little with each other, which makes it possible to limit parasitic signals considerably. Arguments that offer some potential for this technology in traditional computing, and especially on the side of quantum computers.

Unfortunately, the development of this approach has been halted due to certain technological shortcomings. Until now, no one had succeeded in producing a system that could exercise fine enough control over sound waves. This lack of precision closed the door to the production of a complete computer system based on this concept.

At the size of a chip, sound waves are very promising information carriers “, explains Marko Loncar, lead author of the study. However, he also states that: their development was undermined by the inability to control acoustic waves in a stretchable and lossless manner; “.

These acoustic systems can work wonders in future quantum computers. Here IBM’s Q System One, the first circuit-based quantum computer. © IBM Research

Great potential, especially in quantum computing

For this reason, researchers have so far only built acoustic chips passive it was impossible to control. But this new work apparently just broke that lock once and for all. ” Our work shows that we can control these sound waves […]which brings us closer to the first acoustic integrated circuit », Says Loncar satisfied.

To achieve this, they imagined an acoustic modulator that generates an electric field. The latter makes it possible to control the sound wave by precisely controlling all its properties, namely its phase, frequency and amplitude. And this therefore makes it possible to perform the logical operations which are the basis of the operation of the computers.

proof of concept is therefore well in place. Now the researchers want to address the next step. They will try to build one more complex acoustic system on a large scale capable of communicating with other machines, including quantum computers.

It will therefore be interesting to see to what extent these acoustic chips, but also other exotic technologies based on comparable concepts such as photonic chips, will make it possible to accelerate the development of quantum computing.

The text of the study is available here.

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