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Troy University Receives National Science Foundation Grant – The Troy Messenger

Professors at the University of Troy are continually making progress in their respective fields, most recently with Dr. Raj Vinnakota’s acceptance of a $161,597 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue research into the construction of a device that would allow faster recording and processing of data at the photon level. Faster speeds would improve optical computing and optical information processing in multiple applications.

Modern digital devices are powered by microprocessors, and the cornerstone of microprocessors are transistors, explained Vinnakota, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics. The data is then recorded and processed in the form of electrons which move along the paths of the connected transistors.

“The microprocessor is built with tiny neuron-like switches called transistors, which are electronic switches where the current flow in one channel is controlled by another smaller current, much like a water tap,” a- he declared. “In a microprocessor, data is encoded and processed in the form of electric currents, which travel along the paths of connected transistors.”

Similar to a broadcast delay between a live event and television, data processing speeds are delayed between connections, and Vinnakota’s research aims to create an all-optical plasmonic switch to reduce these delays. An all-optical switch is a device that allows an optical signal to control another optical signal, such as the control of light by light.

“The time delay associated with transferring data between transistors limits the speed of the microprocessor. The advent of the current ‘information age’ requires the ability to transfer and process a huge amount of data in a relatively short time,” he said. “A possible alternative to meet the demand is to use photons – light – as signal messengers. Encoding and processing data as photons has the potential to push the current speed limit and move to higher processing speeds. Having that processing speed at much higher levels gives us an edge, even if it’s nanoseconds.

In recent years, nanophotonics, more specifically plasmonics, often referred to as “light on a wire”, has emerged as a promising technology for the development of all-optical devices. Despite advances, a universal fast-switching all-optical transistor does not appear to exist or be practical for optical logic gates. Vinnakota hopes to change that.

“The advantage of a plasmonic-based all-optical switch is the ability to compress and confine light to dimensions well below its wavelength, allowing promising devices to be designed with footprints comparable to the size of modern nanoelectronic devices,” he said. “This research effort presents a transformative new approach towards the development of an efficient and rapid photon-to-photon interaction mechanism. This opens a new path to fast and efficient optical devices, interconnects and circuits, and could further lead to breakthrough technologies… it can be applied to many fields, but more specifically to optical sensors and other devices.

In addition to the potential to make breakthrough technological developments, his research has a strong educational and outreach component, including inspiring and guiding K-12 students to pursue careers in science and technology, by improving undergraduate participation in research and by providing training and mentoring for a diverse group of students. The grant also has the opportunity to boost Troy’s electronic engineering technology program, of which Vinnakota serves as program coordinator.

“This venture paves the way for underrepresented disabled veterans and low-income populations in Alabama’s Black Belt region to participate in cutting-edge research activities in the field of semiconductor photonics and computer optics,” he said. “New innovative outreach educational activities and modules will be developed targeting local schools, community colleges and after-school programs, including educational series, both hands-on and lectures, and summer camps on multiphysics modeling used in the current project.

Vinnakota has published over 15 peer-reviewed articles and conference proceedings in leading journals such as Scientific Reports, NanoPhotonics, Journal of Applied Physics, and CLEO. His research is largely focused on design, studying the coupling of light with nanoscale semiconductors with direct application in novel high-speed processors and sensors.