|[February 19, 2014]
A Step Closer to a Photonic Future
WASHINGTON --(Business Wire)--
The future of computing may lie not in electrons, but in photons - that
is, in microprocessors that use light instead of electrical signals. But
these so-called photonic devices are typically built using customized
methods that make them difficult and expensive to manufacture.
Microscope image of the full chip fabricated in IBM's (News - Alert) 45nm process containing electronics and photonics on the same chip. Credit: Michael Georgas
Now, engineers have demonstrated that low power photonic devices can be
fabricated using standard chip-making processes. They have achieved what
the researchers dub a major milestone in photonic technology. The work
will be presented at this year's OFC
Conference and Exposition, being held�March 9-13 in San Francisco.
The two new devices - a modulator and a tunable filter - are as
energy-efficient as some of the best devices around, the researchers
say, and were built using a standard IBM advanced Complementary
Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) process - the same chip-making process
used to build many commercially available chips, some of which are found
in Sony's PlayStation 3 and also in Watson, the supercomputer that won Jeopardy!
"As far as we know, we're the first ones to get silicon photonics
natively integrated into an advanced CMOS process and to achieve energy
efficiencies that are very competitive with electronics," said Mark Wade
of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who will present his team's work
at OFC. Wade's co-authors include researchers from the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley.
Quenching a Thirst for Power
Moore's Law says that the number of transistors that can fit on a chip
doubles every two years, resulting in te exponential rise in computing
power we have seen over the last few decades. But even as transistors
continue to shrink, Moore's Law may be reaching its limits, due to the
fact that the devices are requiring more power to run, which leads to
Such thirst for power is especially problematic for the communication
link between a computer's central processing unit and its memory.
"It's gotten to the point where it takes too much energy and that limits
your computational power," Wade said.
A solution to this problem may lie in photonics, which researchers
anticipate will be at least 10 times more energy efficient than
electronics. Chip-to-chip communication links using these photonic
devices could have at least 10 times higher bandwidth density, meaning
they can transmit much more information using a smaller amount of space.
That's because different optical signals can share the same optical
wire, whereas sending multiple electrical signals either requires
multiple electronic wires or schemes that require more chip space and
But so far, Wade explains, photonic devices used in chip-to-chip
communication have been primarily custom-built using specialized
methods, limiting their commercial applicability. And devices that have
been created with more standardized techniques rely on older technology,
which limits their ability to compete with cutting-edge electronics.
On the Road to Commercialization
The ability to produce high-performing photonic devices using the CMOS
process means chip designers will not have to be specialists to design
photonic devices, Wade explained, which will hopefully accelerate the
commercialization of photonic technology.
"IBM's CMOS process has already been commercially proven to make
high-quality microelectronics products," Wade said.
The two devices built by the researchers are key components for the
communication link between a computer's central processing unit and its
memory. A modulator converts electrical signals into optical signals. A
tunable filter can pick out light signals of particular frequencies,
allowing it to select a signal from multiple frequencies, each of which
carries data. Used in conjunction with a photodetector, the filter
converts optical signals to electrical signals.
But according to Wade, the significance of this advancement goes beyond
this particular application.
"This is a really nice first step for silicon photonics to take over
some areas of technology where electronics has really dominated and to
start building complex electronic/photonic systems that require dense
integration," Wade said.
The work was part of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency's Photonically Optimized Embedded Microprocessors (POEM) project.
Presentation Tu2E.7, titled "Energy-efficient active photonics in a
zero-change, state-of-the-art CMOS process," will take place Tuesday,
March 11 at 3:30 p.m. in room 123 of the Moscone Center.
PRESS REGISTRATION: A press room for credentialed press and analysts
will be located in the Moscone Center, Sunday through Thursday, March
9-13. Those interested in obtaining a press badge for OFC should contact
Lyndsay Meyer at 202.416.1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more than 35 years, OFC has been the premier destination for
converging breakthrough research and innovation in telecommunications,
optical networking, fiber optics and, recently, datacom and computing.
Consistently ranked in the top 200 tradeshows in the United States, and
named one of the Fastest Growing Trade Shows in 2012 by TSNN, the
conference unites service providers, systems companies, enterprise
customers, IT businesses, and component manufacturers, with researchers,
engineers, and development teams from around the world. OFC includes
dynamic business programming, an exposition of more than 550 companies,
and cutting-edge peer-reviewed research that, combined, showcase the
trends and pulse of the entire optical networking and communications
industry. OFC is managed by The Optical Society (OSA) and co-sponsored
by OSA, the IEEE Communications Society (News - Alert) (IEEE/ComSoc), and the IEEE
Photonics Society. OFC 2014 takes place March 9-13 at the Moscone
Convention Center in San Francisco, Calif., USA.
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