It may look like a piece of gel but it’s a new nano-based telecom technology “enabler” that can make computers and the internet hundreds of times faster.

The technology, that may be in use only five or 10 years in the future, is being designed by Koby Scheuer of Tel Aviv University’s (TAU) School of Electrical Engineering.

Mr. Scheuer has developed a new plastic-based technology for the nano-photonics market, which manufactures optical devices and components. His plastic-based “filter” is made from nanometre (a billionth of a metre) sized grooves embedded into the plastic.

When used in fibre optics cable switches, this new device will make our communication devices smaller, more flexible and more powerful, he says.

“Once Americans have a fibre optics cable coming into every home, all communication will go through it – telephone, cable TV, the Internet,” adds Mr. Scheuer.

“But to avoid bottlenecks of information, we need to separate the information coming through into different channels. Our polymeric devices can do that in the optical domain – at a speed, quality and cost that the semi-conductor industry can’t even imagine,” Mr. Scheuer says.

In the next decade, fibre optic cables that now run from city to city will feed directly into every individual home. When that technology comes to light, the new plastic-based switches could revolutionise the way we communicate.

“Right now, we could transmit all of the written text of the world though a single fibre in a fibre optics cable in just a few seconds,” says Mr. Scheuer.

“But in order to handle these massive amounts of communication data, we need filters to make sense of the incoming information. Ours uses a plastic-based switch, replacing hard-to-fabricate and expensive semi-conductors.”

Semi-conductors, grown on crystals in sterile labs and processed in special ovens, take days and sometimes months to manufacture. They are delicate and inflexible as well, Mr. Scheuer explains.

“Our plastic polymer switches come in an easy-to-work-with liquid solution. Using a method called ‘tamping,’ almost any lab can make optical devices out of the silicon rubber mould we’ve developed.”

His biggest hurdle, says Mr. Scheuer, is in convincing the communications industry that polymers are stable materials.

“There is a lot of prejudice in this industry against plastics. But this approach could take us to a new level of communication,” the researcher says, according to a TAU release.

He also notes that the process is not much different from the way that mass numbers of DVDs are produced in a factory – except Mr. Scheuer works on a nano, not a “giant” micro, scale.

His device can also be used in the gyros of planes, ships and rockets; inserted into cell phones; and made a part of flexible virtual reality gloves so doctors could “operate” on computer networks over large distances.

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