"This material allows you to make devices where light can switch with light," Sargent said. "That means no longer having to go back and forth between light and electrons. You are always in the optical mode of the network."
While today's electronic switches can perform ten billion operations per second, future optic switches may be able to relay a dizzying trillion operations per second.
In 2000 Kuzyk first theorized the quantum limitthe fundamental physical limits on how strongly a material could control and interact with light.
Kuzyk then measured more than 2,000 specially designed molecules against the quantum limit. "An obvious gap of over a factor of 30 was observed," he said, referring to what has become known as the Kuzyk quantum gap. "Lots of very talented chemists were making all sorts of novel molecules, and they all fell short of the limits."
However, the new material designed by Sargent and his colleagues breaches the gap and falls only a factor of two below the quantum limit. The breakthrough comes closer than ever to achieving what quantum mechanical physics tells us is possible.
"There's been a mismatch between what theorists said was possible and what people actually succeeded in doing experimentally," Sargent said. "We responded to this situation by designing and building our material from the bottom upin the true spirit of nanotechnology."
Kuzyk says the discovery proves that taking promising molecules and making them interact with each other may lead to materials with much larger switching efficiency.
"In the end, the availability of such materials, assuming they can be made into devices, will result in a mushrooming of the Internet's capacity," Kuzyk said.
Translating the technology into practical applications, however, could take a very long time.
"We have only shown that it's possible to make a material that is essentially as good as physics will allow," Sargent said. "Now we have to make the actual switch and the network that uses these switches."
Sargent says the real challenge in nanotechnology is "engineering matter at the molecular scale, such that it achieves a needed function." Ultimately, he says, nanotechnology could revolutionize the Internet.
"Personally, I don't think we've seen anywhere close to what the Internet can offer us," he said.
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