In recognition of Egyptian scientist Elham Fadaly's work with silicon-based material that can emit light, international publican Physics World named her achievement their number one Breakthrough of the Year.
Light is weird, scientifically speaking. Sure it's practically everywhere, but actually manipulating it takes some big brain power. It's a bit beyond our comprehension. So when multiple science journals call silicon-based materials that emit light "the Holy Grail of optoelectronics," we nod our heads and then Google frantically. It SOUNDS like a big deal. And as it turns out, it IS.
Apparently, we're about to reach our limit with our current copper-based computer chips. They can only handle so much light and heat from the lasers that transmit information through them before they burn out; we need a replacement if we want to do more. Silicon, from what we understand, is that replacement. And it does not naturally emit light very well. If someone could figure out a way to make silicon behave and play nice with light, if someone could open the path to the creation of a silicon laser that could be implemented into computer chips, it would revolutionize computing as we know it.
As it turns out, someone has cleared that path. And we have Egyptian scientist Elham Fadaly to thank for it. Working at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands with her colleagues Alain Dijkstra and Erik Bakkers, along with a wider international team, she's been able to create a silicon-based material with a direct band gap that will allow it to emit light that optical telecommunications can feasibly use.
The process took a fair bit of alchemy, growing crystals of silicon-germanium alloy as hexagons instead of their typical diamond shape, which already sounds mind-bending enough, until we tell you that to do that, they had to create nanowires out of that alloy so that it can process infrared light. We weren't lying about it being beyond our comprehension. But for those who get it, it's a huge achievement - international publican Physics World has named it their number one Breakthrough of the Year. Talk about enlightening work.