Silicon-ize photonics to satisfy terabit/s cravings

Mieke Van Bavel, science editor, imec, Belgium, writing exclusively for Solid State Technology from imec’s International Technology Forum (ITF) this week in Brussels

May 26, 2011 — What could we download within one second using a chip operating at terrabit/s? We could download two or three seasons of a television drama in high definition, or the entire contents of a laptop hard drive. No matter what we want to do, we demand high-speed connections. Today, an increasing amount of data (photo, video, scientific data…) is shared between users. By 2015, we will likely have more than 15 billion connected devices. How can we establish these connections? Copper is today’s dominant material, but it will soon reach its limits. Can we do this optically? According to Mario Paniccia, Intel, the answer is definitely ‘yes’: we can bring photonics to Si — siliconize photonics — and get the best of both worlds. Paniccia presented "Bridging photonics and computing" during the session "Smart integration for next-generation smart systems."

Si photonics will offer an opportunity for low-cost opto-electronic applications for telecommunications down to chip-to-chip interconnects. In recent years, Intel has made significant progress on this front. Mario Paniccia: "We have been able to realize some essential optical building blocks, like a continuous wave Si Raman laser, an avalanche photodector, etc. The next step is to integrate all these building blocks onto silicon, optimize the process and provide a suitable package. Recently, we succeeded in demonstrating an integrated Si photonics optical link operating at 50Gbps."

And what will be next? "This technology is expected to be scalable toward 1terrabit/s, on a chip the size of a fingernail. It will enable high-performance computing and other data-intensive applications." Of course, major challenges lie ahead: power efficiency, packaging and commercialization of the technologies. But progress is moving at a rapid rate and, if successful, Si may come to similarly impact optical communications as it has the electronics industry. 

Mieke Van Bavel and colleagues are blogging exclusively for Solid State Technology from imec’s International Technology Forum (ITF) this week in Brussels. Also check out:

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