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ORC-Zepler: Si-photonics showcase reports ‘dramatic advances’

18 Jan 2021

£6 million program, led by Graham Reed, has overcome significant R&D challenges for industry-compatible technology.

Silicon photonics advances could expand the capabilities of data centers.

Silicon photonics advances could expand the capabilities of data centers.

Silicon photonics experts highlighted the dramatic progress made this technology at a research showcase in mid-December, hosted by the Zepler Institute for Photonics and Nanoelectronics, Southampton, UK.

The Silicon Photonics for Future Systems (SPFS) Showcase reported advances that will both enhance conventional silicon photonics applications, but also transform new application areas such as programmable photonics and video production in mainstream media.

Highlights included a demonstration of very high data rate transmission, wafer scale testing technology, multilayer photonic circuits, and lasers integrated on silicon chips.

The ambitious £6M ($8M) program, led by Southampton's Professor Graham Reed, has overcome some of the key remaining research challenges, and says it has “facilitated a revolution in low cost photonics”.

Powered steering

The program was guided by a Steering Committee comprising silicon photonics experts Professor Roel Baets (Ghent University and IMEC), Professor Lionel Kimerling (MIT), and Dr Haisheng Rong (Intel). The SPFS program has been led by Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Centre with funding from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Professor Reed, SPFS Principal Investigator and Deputy Director of the ORC, commented, “Our demonstration of a 100Gb/s integrated modulator-driver combination has almost doubled the previous world record performance in all silicon devices, and I think this work can really impact the way data center communications are configured.

“However, the work on wafer scale testing, and multilayer photonics is also ground-breaking. When a steering committee as eminent as this is so complimentary about our work, then we must have done something exceptional.”

The SPFS showcase, sponsored by Physik Instrumente, centred on technology demonstrations, but also included guest presentations from the SPFS Steering Committee, and from Intel on commercialising silicon photonics.

SPFS Steering Committee member Professor Lionel Kimerling, Thomas Lord Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, is co-chair of the international Integrated Photonic Systems roadmap. “3D integration will be the only way to add complexity and scale performance over time, and the project has tackled that as one of its key demonstrators with great success,” he said.

“In particular, the demonstration of the 100Gb/s modulator is a significant achievement. In the future, I see the UK continuing to lead in the advancement of photonics and integration, and the connections with industry are going to be very important.”

Former BBC Principal Research Engineer Chris Chambers said the program's work could greatly enhance many present and potential products for the media industry. “Video production is trying to achieve the highest data rate possible so that, following compression and further processing, the quality isn't degraded on downstream platforms during delivery,” he said.

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