Nanosized Abacus Enables Simultaneous Computing and Storage

December
2017

Technology more than 4,000 years old just got an optical upgrade.

A new take on the abacus uses light pulses and nanoscale phase-change materials (PCMs) to do simple arithmetic and store the results simultaneously. The photonic abacus may not replace the computing architecture of your Mac or PC, but it could offer advantages for optical switching in information transfer.

Abacuses date back to around 2,700 BC, and were even used in ancient Mesopotamia. In an abacus, beads represent digits and rods represent place values (e.g., tens and hundreds). Unlike modern computers, the abacus calculates and stores information in the same place — the bead itself. Today’s computers, built around what’s known as von Neumann architecture, process information in the CPU and store it separately.

“It’s one of the limitations that modern computing...

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