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January 22, 2007

Silicon photonics advances

Wired discusses advances in silicon photonics In 15 or 20 years out, electrons will nearly exclusively be the stuff that computes, while photons will nearly exclusively be the stuff that communicates.


Paniccia's group at Intel will announce its fabrication of an optical modulator on a silicon chip that can translate electronic signals to light at speeds up to 20 GHz. That's nearly a threefold speedup from the group's previous modulator.

Slightly less difficult -- although still challenging -- is part three of the optics equation: making sub-millimeter-size detectors to convert the optical pulses back to electrical signals.

M.W. Geis and collaborators from MIT's Lincoln Laboratory will be announcing a breakthrough in that area this week as well: an all-silicon 10- to 20-GHz detector that, as it happens, can keep up with Intel's new modulator.

IBM has taken the lead in the middle component of the triad, microscopic silicon waveguides to pipe the information-carrying photons from the laser/modulator to the detector on the other side of the chip.

In December, Yuri Vlasov and colleagues from IBM published in the journal Nature their development of micron-size optical tracks that included storage rings. The latter devices would be used like miniature racetracks for the photons to circle around until the information they carry is needed.

These optical buffers managed to hold light for up to 60 laps around the track -- setting the buffered light pulses 10 bits behind unbuffered light.

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