The Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) is taking part in the European PHENOMEN project, which kicked off last September. Funded through the highly-competitive H2020 Future and Emerging Technologies (FET-Open) programme, PHENOMEN is a ground-breaking project that will combine advances in photonics, mechanics and electronics to develop the first optically-driven phonon sources and detectors, all at the nano scale.
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, tells us: “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.
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 prediction of mass, force and charge at the nanoscale.