The year has been chock-full of scientific breakthroughs, but the University of Colorado is determined to finish 2015 with a bang. Its researchers have created what they say is the first full-fledged processor to transmit data using light instead of electricity. The design isn't entirely photonic, but its 850 optical input/output elements give it the kind of bandwidth that make electric-only chips look downright modest -- we're talking 300Gbps per square millimeter, or 10 to 50 times what you normally see. The key was finding a way to reuse existing conventional processes to put optics in places where regular circuitry would go.
The design isn't a powerhouse with a tiny size (3mm by 6mm, or 0.1in by 0.2in) and just two cores. However, it shows the potential for dramatic improvements in computing power without having to completely reinvent the wheel. You could have networking gear that copes with massive amounts of data, for example. And there's plenty of room for optimization, too, so the possibilities for this technology remain wide open.
[Image credit: Glenn Asakawa, University of Colorado]