A New Step Towards Photonic Chips

Article By : M. Di Paolo Emilio

Leading companies in the semiconductor industry, such as IBM, Intel, and HP, are currently investing billions of dollars for the shift to photonics.

The speed of multicore microprocessors, already used by high-performance computers, does not depend so much on the speed of a single core, but on time required for data transfer between the various cores. The copper interconnections used in today's microprocessors cannot maintain the progress of the communication's performance. Leading companies in the semiconductor industry, such as IBM, Intel, and HP, are currently investing billions of dollars for the shift to photonics. Electron substitution with photons means that large amounts of data can be transferred between the processor cores almost instantly, which means that the processor's performance will be almost proportional to the number of cores.

Photonics Research Group researchers presented in its latest paper extraordinary results in the field of photonics, through the integration of single-photon emitters in 2D layered materials with a Silicon Nitride photonic chip. The results have been published in Nature Communications and provide a crucial step in fundamental quantum photonics and in the search for 2D materials. The integration of optics and electronics on the same chip supports more data traffic, substantially with a low cost and a marked reduction in energy consumption. These optoelectronic chips are intended to make communication more intelligent and convenient.

Photonic integrated circuits (PIC) allow better efficiency in the data transmission and the miniaturization of complex quantum optical circuits with optimized insertion losses and phase stability. The integration of single-photon emitters (SPE) in 2D materials allows very high light extraction efficiencies without the need for further processing, allowing efficient transfer of individual photons between slaves and masters (Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Integrated quantum emitters. A) Top view of the device; b) Cross-section of the sample; c) Impression of the fiber-coupled chip; d) Microscope image of chip.

“These results provide a crucial step in scaling up quantum photonic devices using 2D-based integrated single photon sources,” stated Frédéric Peyskens, first author of the paper.

All this is also made available to the full availability of 2D materials grown with high uniformity on a wafer scale. Many leading companies in the sector are investing considerable capital in facing the transition from electronics to photonics in the near future. This will involve an almost instantaneous data transfer and computing power proportional to the number of cores. The processing devices of the future, whether they are quantum computers or even simple photonic integrated circuits, have already given a new perspective to the test for the power and versatility of computing in the future.

Current interests are in silicon photonic technology and optical processing, designing and testing fully integrated photonic chips that will soon receive information with a data transfer rate of over 25 Gb/s per channel. This will soon allow the production of 100-gigabit optical transmitters per second. In addition, it will allow the creation of data centres with higher data transmission speeds and a considerable bandwidth for cloud computing and Big Data applications for the next industry 4.0 (and 5.0).

In optoelectronic packaging, there is enormous potential to capitalize on the evolution of 5G and expand the ability to connect multiple devices. IoT is expected to be a major driver of growth over the next years.

In photonics, information carriers can be photons, solitons or plasmons. The plasmon is a quasi-particle associated with plasma oscillations of free electron density. The association of this particle offers at least two important advantages: the possibility of transmitting information with a higher frequency (around 100 THz) and the ability to confine the light in very small objects. Lasers and phasers are the equivalents of electric generators; Optical waveguides and optical fibres act like cables, and optical transistors are the equivalents of electrical switches and electronic transistors.

Photonic microchips have the advantage of being faster and more energy-efficient, which means that the devices can work longer with batteries in mobile devices. Furthermore, integrated photonics offers completely new functional opportunities in many other fields, such as the automotive and food industries.

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