Sunday, September 17, 2006

Researchers Announce First Hybrid Silicon Laser

Researchers from Intel and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) unveiled the first electrically powered Hybrid Silicon Laser using standard silicon manufacturing processes.

The researchers were able to combine the light-emitting properties of Indium Phosphide with the light-routing capabilities of silicon into a single hybrid chip.

When voltage is applied, light generated in the Indium Phosphide enters the silicon waveguide to create a continuous laser beam that can be used to drive other silicon photonic devices.

Intel said its hybrid silicon laser involves a novel design employing Indium Phosphide-based material for light generation and amplification while using the silicon waveguide to contain and control the laser. The key to manufacturing the device is the use of a low-temperature, oxygen plasma -- an electrically charged oxygen gas -- to create a thin oxide layer (roughly 25 atoms thick) on the surfaces of both materials.

When heated and pressed together the oxide layer functions as a "glass-glue" fusing the two materials into a single chip. When voltage is applied, light generated in the Indium Phosphide-based material passes through the oxide "glass-glue" layer and into the silicon chip's waveguide, where it is contained and controlled, creating a hybrid silicon laser. The design of the waveguide is critical to determining the performance and specific wavelength of the hybrid silicon laser.

"This could bring low-cost, terabit-level optical ‘data pipes' inside future computers and help make possible a new era of high-performance computing applications," said Mario Paniccia, director of Intel's Photonics Technology Lab. "While still far from becoming a commercial product, we believe dozens, maybe even hundreds of hybrid silicon lasers could be integrated with other silicon photonic components onto a single silicon chip."

  • In February 2004, researchers from Intel announced success in using silicon manufacturing processes to create a novel "transistor-like" device that can encode data onto a light beam. Performance of the silicon-based optical modulator exceeded 1 GHz and the Intel researchers said they believed they can the scale the technology up to 10 GHz or faster in the future. To achieve the result, a beam of light was split into two beams as it passed through the silicon. Then, a novel transistor-like device was used to hit one beam with an electric charge, inducing a "phase shift." When the two beams of light were re-combined the phase shift induced between the two arms made the light exiting the chip go on and off at over 1 GHz. The on and off pattern of light can be translated into the 1's and 0's needed to transmit data.


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