There's some weird science going down at IBM: namely, ditching the copper that facilities electrical signals for information exchange on circuitry and replacing it instead with chips that can communicate using pulses of light. The whole shebang is called a nanophotonic avalanche photodetector, and IBM claims to have the fastest one in town.
Wait, avalanche? That's right — the term comes from the way the exchange of information builds as the silicon circuits do their thing, according to IBM:
The IBM device explores the avalanche effect in Germanium, a material currently used in production of microprocessor chips. Analogous to a snow avalanche on a steep mountain slope, an incoming light pulse initially frees just a few charge carriers which in turn free others until the original signal is amplified many times. Conventional avalanche photodetectors are not able to detect fast optical signals because the avalanche builds slowly.
The technology's main draw is the fact that it uses substantially less power than a setup that relies on copper and electrical signals, using a whopping 20 times. The example given by IBM is that if a traditional system uses 20-30 volts, the new system would get by with a AA battery, which is rated at around 1.6 volts. Check out a video explanation of the technology below.
Via PC World