Energy-free superfast computing invented by scientists using light pulses

Posted: May 18, 2019 by oldbrew in Electro-magnetism, Energy, research

A computer-generated image of Apple’s first Irish data centre [credit: Apple]

Data centres consume a lot of electricity so this could be a big deal if scalable as claimed here.

Superfast data processing using light pulses instead of electricity has been created by scientists, reports

The invention uses magnets to record computer data which consume virtually zero energy, solving the dilemma of how to create faster data processing speeds without the accompanying high energy costs.

Today’s data centre servers consume between 2 to 5% of global electricity consumption, producing heat which in turn requires more power to cool the servers.

The problem is so acute that Microsoft has even submerged hundreds of its data centre services in the ocean in an effort to keep them cool and cut costs.

Most data are encoded as binary information (0 or 1 respectively) through the orientation of tiny magnets, called spins, in magnetic hard-drives. The magnetic read/write head is used to set or retrieve information using electrical currents which dissipate huge amounts of energy.

Now an international team publishing in Nature has solved the problem by replacing electricity with extremely short pulses of light—the duration of one trillionth of a second—concentrated by special antennas on top of a magnet.

This new method is superfast but so energy efficient that the temperature of the magnet does not increase at all.

The team includes Dr. Rostislav Mikhaylovskiy, formerly at Radboud University and now Lancaster University, Stefan Schlauderer, Dr. Christoph Lange and Professor Rupert Huber from Regensburg University, Professor Alexey Kimel from Radboud University and Professor Anatoly Zvezdin from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

They demonstrated this new method by pulsing a magnet with ultrashort light bursts (the duration of a millionth of a millionth of a second) at frequencies in the far infrared, the so called terahertz spectral range.

However, even the strongest existing sources of the terahertz light did not provide strong enough pulses to switch the orientation of a magnet to date.

The breakthrough was achieved by utilizing the efficient interaction mechanism of coupling between spins and terahertz electric field, which was discovered by the same team.

The scientists then developed and fabricated a very small antenna on top of the magnet to concentrate and thereby enhance the electric field of light. This strongest local electric field was sufficient to navigate the magnetization of the magnet to its new orientation in just one trillionth of a second.

The temperature of the magnet did not increase at all as this process requires energy of only one quantum of the terahertz light—a photon—per spin.

Full report here.
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Irish Independent — Revealed: Data centres to swallow 75pc of growth in Irish power demand

Quote: Data centres will consume up to 20pc of all electricity generated in the State within a decade, which will pose an enormous challenge for Ireland meeting its climate change targets.

  1. oldbrew says:

    an enormous challenge for Ireland meeting its climate change targets

    EU targets that is. Heavy penalties for ‘offenders’.

  2. SasjaL says:

    The problem is so acute that Microsoft has even submerged hundreds of its data centre services in the ocean in an effort to keep them cool and cut costs.” … affecting the water temperature [locally]. Is this politically correct, regarding the bogus climate scare?

  3. stpaulchuck says:

    more hyperbolic headlines screaming nonsense (click bait as usual). Must be a slow news day.

    This appears to be a one bit storage experiment at this time. Hardly terabyte storage (for now). As others have noted, it is likely a decade or more away from being available at Newegg.

  4. JB says:

    Yah, uh huh. i used to work for Iomega. The energy involved in the actual creation of a magnetic bit at the magnetic media is very small. The majority of the energy consumed is by the support/interface circuitry needed to read and write the head over the processor’s pipeline. The energy required to spin the media is often as much as the entire circuitry required to assemble that tiny flux change into usable high speed serial data. In other words, getting the data into and back out of the storage medium is where the bulk of the power is consumed, not the storage medium’s transition energy. The light source is likely to be a laser, which is itself a power hungry device, and it sounds like a glorified optical disk technology. Pumping a laser to reduce the write head energy is not a power savings.

  5. Curious George says:

    This new light needs no energy. Fantastic! And a nanomagnet with an antenna attached to each bit… How to retrieve any information so stored is a task for future generations.

  6. ivan says:

    As JB says the actual energy writing and reading the information is very small it is all the support infrastructure to enable that that uses the energy.

    Reading the slightly extended write up at appears to imply, without actually stating it, that they are playing about with heavy duty lasers that do use a lot of energy even for short duration pulses. They don’t state if the magnetic medium they are writing to moves or if the laser head does, either way that requires more energy for the positioning electronics.

    If they wanted to reduce energy usage in data centres they should think about removing all the Intel space heater processors and replace them with ARM units. Even just replacing them with low power AMD units would reduce power usage by about 40% and also remove about 90% of the 5i backdoors.

  7. tom0mason says:

    Oh goody, lets put loads of subsidies into solar powered magnetic storage then. What could possibly go wrong …

    Ivanpah Solar Data Center maybe? 🙂

  8. Graeme No.3 says:

    The comment “within a decade will pose an enormous challenge for Ireland meeting its climate change targets” pre-supposes that there will still be climate change targets then.
    Also, the Australian election result would indicate that the public are ignoring the hysterics.

  9. oldbrew says:

    When people are asked if they prefer prosperity and security to a climate wild goose chase, enough sensible folk seem to say yes.

  10. Graeme No.3 says:

    Ah! But Ireland was the home of The Wild Geese.

  11. This may not be relevant but is interesting and seems to oppose those that think everything radiates all the time.

    Chinese scientists discover infrared stealth material
    Xinhua | Updated: 2019-04-08 16:42

    NANJING – Chinese scientists have found a material that can hide a hot object from heat-sensing infrared cameras, according to Suzhou Institute of Nano-tech and Nano-bionics (SINANO).

    Hiding an object from thermal cameras could be useful for military and technology applications as well as for research. The team led by Zhang Xuetong in SINANO with Chinese Academy of Sciences found a flexible, foldable and robust film that can achieve infrared stealth.

    The researchers fabricated an aerogel film with good thermal insulation performance and enhanced it by coating its fibers with polyethylene glycol (PEG) and a protective waterproof layer.

    PEG stores heat when it melts and releases heat when it solidifies. In simulated sunlight, the composite film covering an object soaked up heat from the sun while only slowly increasing in temperature, just like the surroundings, making the object invisible to a thermal camera.

    When the light was turned off to simulate night, the coating gradually surrendered its stored heat energy to match the surroundings.

    “The new material has a wide range of applications. It can not only be used for infrared stealth but also as a heat insulator for electronic components and battery separators,” Zhang said.

    The findings have been published on the recent issue of the academic journal American Chemical Society.”

  12. David A says:

    JB says “The energy required to spin the media is often as much as the entire circuitry required…”

    Well JB, The media is exceptionally proficient at spin!