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Nanotechnology Speeds Up Internet 100 Times

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Using a new hybrid material made of nanometer-sized "buckyballs" and a polymer, Canadian researchers have shown that nanotechnology could lead to the Internet based entirely on light and 100 times faster than today's. This material allowed them to use one laser beam to direct another with unprecedented control, a feature needed inside future fiber-optic networks. These future fiber-optic communication systems could relay signals around the global network with picosecond (one trillionth of a second) switching times, resulting in the Internet 100 times faster. At present, this discovery appeared in a lab: we'll have to live with our current networks for some time.

"This finding showcases the power of nanotechnology: to design and create purpose-built custom materials from the molecule up," says Sargent, a professor at University of Toronto's Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

What kind of problems did they solve?

Until now, engineering researchers have been unable to capitalize on theoreticians' predictions of the power of light to control light. The failure of real materials to live up to their theoretical potential has become known as the "Kuzyk quantum gap" in molecular nonlinear optics.

To breach the Kuzyk quantum gap, Carleton University chemistry professor Wayne Wang and colleague Connie Kuang designed a material that combined nanometre-sized spherical particles known as "buckyballs" (molecules of carbon atoms resembling soccer balls) with a designed class of polymer. The polymer and buckyball combination created a clear, smooth film designed to make light particles pick up each other's patterns.

Sargent and U of T colleague Qiying Chen then studied the optical properties of this new hybrid material. They found that the material was able to process information carried at telecommunications wavelengths -- the infrared colours of light used in fibre-optic cables.

What can we expect from this discovery?

According to Sargent, future fibre-optic communication systems could relay signals around the global network with picosecond (one trillionth of a second) switching times, resulting in the Internet 100 times faster. To do this, they need to avoid unnecessary conversions of signals between optical and electronic form.

Says Sargent: "By creating a new hybrid material that can harness a light beam's power, we've demonstrated a new class of materials which meets the engineering needs of future photonic networks."

However, the keyword here is "future," so don't think that your Internet connection will be 100 times faster before several years.

Source: University of Toronto news release, August 11, 2004

5.2 IT and business.

Have you ever heard about Internet2?

Was Richard Nolan right in his predictions?

Here comes Internet2 for businesses -- in 2005?

Before going on with the story, do you remember what is Internet2? It started in April 1999 as a $500 million project linking 37 U.S. universities. At this time, the network was supposed to operate at a 2.4 gigabit-per-second speed and the project, linking more than 140 universities, completed by 2003.

Have you heard about Internet2 lately? Harvard Business School (HBS) Richard Nolan spent lots of time on this project and is telling us about the current status.

"I talk to managers about Internet2," Nolan said. The usual response? "Internet what? I thought Internet 1 was dead."

Some executives, he says, are experiencing "dot vertigo," that dizziness accompanying claims about all the wonderful ways the Internet is going to transform their lives. What they don't realize is that their fears make them discount the impact of the Internet in what Nolan called a very dangerous way.

Quickly and quietly, said Nolan, Internet2 is making inroads in important ways in collaborative learning and R&D. When privatization and business applications start to enter the picture, which he predicted would happen by the year 2005, managers will have much to gain -- or lose.

The power of Internet2 lies in its ability to connect networks of networks. Currently, he said, universities and labs use it to connect researchers working on collaborative projects. These projects can range from building virtual reality models of the ear -- a medical application -- to studying the stars -- a scientific application.

And, even in a publication from Harvard, there is the comparison.

A DVD version of the Hollywood movie "The Matrix," for example, can be downloaded via Internet2 in about thirty seconds, Nolan said. The same DVD would take approximately 25 hours to download via a standard DSL/cable line (and 170 hours -- or more than seven days -- via a 56K modem).

Source: HBS Working Knowledge, September 15, 2002


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