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UK invests £5m in silicon photonics

19 Nov 2007

Silicon photonics could benefit from a research partnership between UK academia and industrial allies Intel and QinetiQ.

A five-year research project focusing on silicon photonics has won £5m from the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The consortium, led by Graham Reed and Goran Mashanovich of the University of Surrey, includes four other UK universities along with QinetiQ and Intel, which has pioneered silicon photonics research. The group aims to deliver key technology demonstrators and contribute to silicon photonics research.

"We believe that we have assembled an excellent consortium to deliver the proposed work, and to enable the UK to compete on an international level," Reed told optics.org. "We aim to carry out work that is highly industrially relevant. We will produce technology demonstrators such as a transmitter and receiver with integrated electronic and photonic functionality."

In addition to the technology demonstrators, the team hopes make improvements to specific device performances and process integration. "We will target interconnect and internet applications, as they are receiving the most attention worldwide and have the largest potential for wealth creation," commented Reed. "We will also work on low-loss silicon rib, strip and photonic crystal waveguides, improvements in the free spectral range of silicon-based optical filters, couplers to small waveguides, nonlinear optics and the design and fabrication of waveguide-based detectors operating at both 1310 nm and 1550 nm."

Each of the group members will be responsible for different aspects of the research. The University of Surrey team will lead the modeling and modulator work, and will manage the project. The University of St Andrews will direct the waveguides and coupler work packages, while Leeds University will focus on nonlinear optical effects. Warwick University will manage the detector work and the University of Southampton will coordinate the electronic/ photonic integration work.

The industrial partners will also play an active role in the group, with QinetiQ leading the work on optical filters. "QinetiQ are the inventors of a well-known optical filter configuration and are natural candidates to lead the work on optical filters," explained Reed.

Intel will contribute to fabrication and integration issues, and the chipmaker's contribution will be led by Mario Paniccia, director of Intel's Photonics Technology Labs. "Intel has a very active silicon photonics group that has contributed to some of the major advances in their field," commented Reed. "Whilst this is not part of their main microprocessor business today, there is potential for it to be so in the future. As a company it recognizes the great potential of silicon photonics, so is putting significant resources into the technology."

Kicking off the project in January will be work on waveguides, modulators, couplers, filters, nonlinear effects and detectors. "One of the key challenges for us will be integration issues. The process requirements in electronics and photonics, while similar in many ways, are not the same," concluded Reed. "We must take great care to ensure that the process for one does not result in the degradation of the other."

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