PerspectiveApplied Physics

Triggering an Optical Transistor with One Photon

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Science  16 Aug 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6147, pp. 725-726
DOI: 10.1126/science.1242905

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Transistors are the key element in all electronic circuits, and a single computer chip may contain billions of these elements. However, in recent years, data communication underwent a paradigm shift away from electronic schemes to light-based communication with optical fibers. In the wake of this transformation, a considerable amount of research has gone into trying to replace active electronic circuits with optical ones. One major research direction focuses on all-optical transistors that allow a large optical “source” signal to be controlled by a weak “gate” light field. On page 768 of this issue, Chen et al. (1) report on the realization of such a device and demonstrate that even the smallest possible gate field—a single photon—can control the transmission of a source optical field consisting of hundreds of photons.