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Calculating with light using a chip-scale all-optical abacus

J. Feldmann, M. Stegmaier, N. Gruhler, C. Ríos, H. Bhaskaran, C. D. Wright &
W. H. P. Pernice

Nature Communicationsvolume 8, Article number: 1256 (2017)

Received:12 March 2017 Accepted:21 September 2017
Published online:02 November 2017

Source/Fonte: Getty Images


Machines that simultaneously process and store multistate data at one and the same location can provide a new class of fast, powerful and efficient general-purpose computers. We demonstrate the central element of an all-optical calculator, a photonic abacus, which provides multistate compute-and-store operation by integrating functional phase-change materials with nanophotonic chips. With picosecond optical pulses we perform the fundamental arithmetic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, including a carryover into multiple cells. This basic processing unit is embedded into a scalable phase-change photonic network and addressed optically through a two-pulse random access scheme. Our framework provides first steps towards light-based non-von Neumann arithmetic.


Additional data supporting the conclusions are available in Supplementary Materials. The authors acknowledge support by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) grants PE 1832/2-1 and EPSRC grant EP/J018783/1. M.S. acknowledges support from the Karlsruhe School of Optics and Photonics (KSOP) and the Stiftung der Deutschen Wirtschaft (sdw). C.R. is grateful to JEOL UK and the Clarendon Fund for funding his graduate studies. H.B. acknowledges support from the John Fell Fund and the EPSRC (EP/J00541X/2 and EP/J018694/1). The authors also acknowledge support from the DFG and the State of Baden-Württemberg through the DFG-Center for Functional Nanostructures (CFN). The authors thank S. Diewald for assistance with device fabrication.

Author information

Author notes

J. Feldmann and M. Stegmaier contributed equally to the work.


Institute of Physics, University of Muenster, Heisenbergstr. 11, 48149, Muenster, Germany

J. Feldmann, M. Stegmaier, N. Gruhler & W. H. P. Pernice

Department of Materials, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PH, UK

C. Ríos & H. Bhaskaran

Department of Engineering, University of Exeter, Exeter, EX4 QF, UK

C. D. Wright


W.H.P.P., H.B., and C.D.W. conceived the experiments. N.G. and C.R. fabricated the samples with the help of M.S. and J.F. J.F. and M.S. performed the measurements. All authors discussed the results and wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to W. H. P. Pernice.

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