Hi-tech pop quiz

Back in high school when teachers gave pop quizzes, we would lament: "Just when I learned all the answers, they changed all the questions."

The same holds true today when it comes to the pace of technological change and the endless stream of new electronic gadgets. From the checkout counter at the supermarket, to the DVD player replacing the VCR player, every day can seem like an electronic pop quiz.

The latest wonder from the researcher's lab - photonics - is beginning to make its appearance. But rather than a pop quiz, its going to be like the SAT.

Photonics will turbocharge nearly everything associated with electronics. It promises to harness photons, or particles of light, and stream them. It establishes the potential to carry more than 100 times the information carried by electrons that run electronic devices. This allows for much smaller components.

The field of photonics is where microchip research was 20 years ago and is on the cusp of a breakout into numerous consumer electronics products.

As Lori Valigra points out (see article right) the telephone wire, as we know it, has become too slow and too small to handle Internet traffic: "It took 75 years for telephones to be used by 50 million customers, but it took only four years for the Internet to reach that many users."

Digital signals coursing down the Internet run into "traffic" jams. The incredible pressure this use puts on "slower" microchips to serve as switching devices on the information highway could be eased if the switches moved at the speed of light, indeed, if they were beams of light. Enter photonics.

Ms. Valigra gives us insights to help us pass that next pop quiz.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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