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Optical computers light up the horizon

Join Martijn Heck as he shows how light and lasers are taking over electronics in computers

Optical chips will power our future datacenters and supercomputers
Martijn Heck

Event description

Since their invention, computers have become faster and faster, as a result of our ability to increase the number of transistors on a processor chip. However, we are now approaching the limits of this electronic technology.

In this talk, Martijn Heck will show how light and lasers are taking over electronics in computers. Processors can now contain tiny lasers and light detectors, allowing them to send and receive data through small optical fibres, at speeds far exceeding the copper lines we use now. We are even starting to see optical processors: chips that use laser light and optical switches, instead of currents and electronic transistors, to do calculations. Martijn will give insight in the underlying technology, and present a vision for future computing.

This event is supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Event type

This is a livestream event where the speaker and audience come together online. 


These online events are free for everyone to access. However, donations are an extremely important source of support for us and we would be most grateful if you are able to contribute. We are a small, independent charity and receive no government funding.  Our income from ticket sales and venue hire has been significantly reduced and will continue to fall. Donations, alongside our membership subscriptions are vital to our development and survival.

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About the speaker

Martijn Heck has a PhD in electrical engineering from Eindhoven University of Technology, the Netherlands, on the topic of photonic integration, where he is currently a full professor. Previously he held research and academic positions at the University of California Santa Barbara, US, and at Aarhus University, Denmark. His research is focused on photonic integrated circuits, or optical chips, and how these can improve exponential technologies like computing and communication.


The live stream will go live at 6.55pm, and the introduction will begin at 7.00pm. If you register but miss the live stream, the video will be available to you via the same link for up to a week after the event date.

The Royal Institution is part of the Amazon Affiliate Programme and book links on this page are affiliate links, which means it won't cost you any extra but we may earn a small commission if you decide to purchase through the link. All proceeds help support the charitable work of the Ri. Affiliate disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate The Royal Institution earns from qualifying purchases.

18 and 19 August holiday workshops cancelled

Due to planned transport strikes, all holiday workshops on Thursday 18 and Friday 19 August are cancelled.