Energy consumption is likely to become a major limitation on the development of information technology in the near future, Professor David Miller FRS of Stanford University will tell an audience in Edinburgh tomorrow, 17 March when he gives the joint Royal Society of Edinburgh/Royal Academy of Engineering Lecture 2015. Professor Miller will discuss the future of fibre optics and the possible new applications of photonics technology.

Most of today’s global information exchange is carried by light within fibre optic cables. The amount of data generated and transferred is increasing exponentially, and the amount of energy needed to handle this ever-growing mass of information now requires power in environmentally significant amounts.

Energy is needed at every step of the digital information life-cycle, for its transmission, reception and processing, to generate the signals that carry the information and to power and cool down the devices that receive and process the data. Vast amounts of energy are required to run the data centres that power the internet.

Perhaps surprisingly, most of the energy requirement is for internal data transmission within individual machines rather than for the global transmission of data. Professor Miller will explain that the bulk of the energy use is inside data centres behind the internet, inside smaller machines that use the information (such as a computers or tablets) and inside the network nodes of the internet that direct information to its destinations.

New generations of integrated photonic technology may solve most of these problems, conserving energy while satisfying society’s ever growing demand for data.

Professor Miller says: “The answer – and the challenge – is to use more optics to transmit information over shorter distances, for example within computing devices and even interconnecting the silicon chips themselves.” “Optics works by generating and detecting photons and does not need to expend energy to charge an electrical connection between the transmitter and the receiver, a benefit that comes directly from quantum mechanics. Also, optics can carry more information than is possible via electrical wires.

“Serious progress is being made towards silicon photonics, producing electronic chips that use optical components, and the next challenge is to lower the cost of production to drive large-scale deployment.”

Professor David Miller is currently the W. M. Keck Professor of Electrical Engineering, and a Co-Director of the Stanford Photonics Research Centre at Stanford University.  He has published more than 260 scientific papers and the textbook Quantum Mechanics for Scientists and Engineers; he holds 71 patents and is a Fellow of many learned societies, including the Royal Societies of Edinburgh and London and is a Member of both the US National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.

Notes for Editors

  1. The RSE/RAEng joint lecture 2015: Light, Energy and the Internet will take place on 17 March, 2015 at 6pm, at The Royal Society of Edinburgh, 22-26 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2PQ.
  1. The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is a leading educational charity which operates in an independent and non-party-political basis to provide public benefit throughout Scotland. Established by Royal Charter in 1783 by key proponents of the Scottish Enlightenment, the work of the RSE includes awarding research funding, leading on major inquiries, informing public policy and delivering events to inspire knowledge and learning.
  1. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK's national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK's role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK's world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook. We have four strategic challenges: Drive faster and more balanced economic growth; foster better education and skills; lead the profession; promote engineering at the heart of society.

For more information please contact:

Giorgio de Faveri at the Royal Academy of Engineering
T: 020 7766 0655;
E: Giorgio De Faveri


Jordan Ogg at the Royal Society of Edinburgh
T: 0131 240 2792
E: Jordan Ogg