Research by a team of scientists from England and Germany has developed techniques that it says will lead to the first memory chip that can capture light. This will allow large quantities of data to be stored directly on an integrated optical chip, rather than being processed and stored electronically, as happens today.

Light is suited to ultra-fast high-bandwidth data transfer. Optical communications form an indispensable part of the IT world of today and tomorrow. However, a stumbling block so far has been the storage of large quantities of data directly on integrated chips in the optical domain.

Professor David Wright, from the University of Exeter's Engineering department said: "With our prototype we have, for the first time, a nanoscale integrated optical memory that could open up the route towards ultra-fast data processing and storage. Our technology might also eventually be used to reproduce in computers the neural-type processing that is carried out by the human brain."

While optical fibre cables have become part of our everyday life, data on a computer is still processed and stored electronically. The researchers have successfully captured light on an integrated chip, thus developing the first permanent, all-optical on-chip memory.

Oxford University’s Professor Harish Bhaskaran, one of the lead co-authors, said: "The written state is preserved when the power is removed, unlike most current on-chip memories."

"Optical bits can be written in our system at frequencies of up to 1GHz or more, and our approach can define a new speed limit for future processors, by delivering extremely fast on-chip optical data storage" added Prof Bhaskaran.