Polymers Increasing Supercomputers’ Speed

Quick! What’s the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

polymerIf you don’t know the answer (or that the question is a Monty Python reference), that’s okay. A new computer designed by Dow Corning Electronic and IBM with a flexible polymer material could probably figure it out.

The companies claim that the polymer material, which creates optical waveguides on printed circuit boards, enables the transmission of light instead of electrical signals. Thus, supercomputers using the polymer will perform faster and use energy more efficiently, reports IT World Canada.

The new material is based on high-performance silicone. IT World Canada explains some of the technical specifications:

The material’s chief advantage is its high reliability. Waveguides made with the material can deliver sustained good performance past 2,000 hours under high humidity and temperature over 500 thermal cycles between -40 degrees centigrade and 120 degrees centigrade, according to Dr. Bert Jan Offrein, manager of the Photonics Research Group at IBM Research.

“The robustness and flexibility of the new material make it and ideal replacement for traditional copper waveguides,” said Simon Jones, business builder for Dow Corning. “It has the potential to drastically reduce the cost of circuit board production and at the same time enable supercomputers to perform at faster data rates while consuming less energy.”

The data (measured in exabytes, or 1 billion gigabytes) used in the supercomputers is growing annually at 60%. Therefore, it is important that the energy required for the machines as the data moves from the processor to the printed board is significantly reduced.

“Polymer waveguides provide an integrated means to route optical signals similar to how copper lines route electrical signals,” says Dr. Bert Jan Offrein, manager of the Photonics Research Group at IBM Research, in a press release. “Our design is highly flexible, resistant to high temperatures and has strong adhesion properties — these waveguides were designed with no compromises.”

“Optical waveguides made from Dow Corning’s silicone polymer technology offer customers revolutionary new options for transmitting data substantially faster, and with lower heat and energy consumption,” says Eric Peeters, vice president of Dow Corning Electronic Solutions. “We are confident that silicone-based board-level interconnects will quickly supersede conventional electronic signal distribution to deliver the amazing speeds needed for tomorrow’s supercomputers.”

Source: “New polymer can cut supercomputing cost,” IT World Canada, 2/4/13
Source: “Dow Corning and IBM Scientists Develop New Materials for Board-Level Photonics,” MarketWatch, 2/4/13
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