At present, most information is processed using electrons (electricity) and photons (light). Electrons are good at storing information, while photons are more useful for sending it across long distances at high speeds (think fibre optics). However, as Alejandro Martínez Abieta, researcher at the UPV's Nanophotonics Technology Centre, stated: "Matter has other basic particles which, if we can work out how to harness them, could improve our processing capabilities far beyond what has been achieved with electrons and photons."
This is where phonons come in: loosely-speaking, phonons are matter's mechanical vibrations. The goal of PHENOMEN researchers is to harness the full potential of these particles, controlling their generation and detection in order to use them as a third particle in information processing.
As Alejandro Martínez Abieta further explained, the use of phonons as information carriers in a chip is completely innovative and would lay the foundations for an entirely new technology, one "whose impact is difficult to predict at this time, like when we first started to use electrons and photons. The use of phonons in chips may prove fundamental in creating quantum networks". He added: "Besides, the phonons are already there purely by dint of the material being at a certain temperature, so why not use them?"
Among its future applications, harnessing phonons would enable the development of faster, more efficient communication networks and allow radio frequency signals to be processed in optical chips. It would also lead to ultra-precise sensors for the predicion of mass, force and charge at the nanoscale.
The project is being led by the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2). The UPV is also participating alongside the Italian National Research Council and Marche Polytechnic University, Italy; the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland; Lille Science and Technology University and the company MENAPiC, France.
For its part, the UPV's Nanophotonics Technology Centre will be working on the design and manufacture of silicon optomechanical chips. This centre is one of the few in Europe with the capacity to construct these chips, which are fundamental for converting photons into phonons and vice versa.