Researchers at the University of Minnesota invented a microscopic switch that uses light as a control mechanism, rather than electrical signals. The device, which researchers say is the first of its kind, could be refined and implemented to greatly increase Internet download speeds and greatly reduce transmission costs, EurekaAlert.org reported.

The device works similarly to an electromechanical relay, but uses light frequencies to control a mechanical switch instead of using electrical current. The device can operate 1 million times per second, making it possible to relay data from radio-frequency devices directly to fiber optics for broadband transmissions.

The device utilizes a donut-shaped component called an optical resonator, which is placed between two rod-like components, called waveguides. As light travels through one waveguide, it is circulated through the optical resonator hundreds of times, increasing the intensity of the signal. The amplified force generated by the optical resonator guides a free-moving piece of the second waveguide like a tuning fork, thus signaling the light transmission in a useable, amplified form.

Researchers Mo Li, Huan Li, Yu Chen, Semere Tadesse and Jong Noh published their findings in the online journal Nature Communications. They expect to be able to improve the speed of the device from millions of operations per second to billions per second.

The full research paper can be found online on Nature.com.