German researchers claim world record in silicon integrated nanophotonics

July 04, 2013 // By Paul Buckley
Researchers of the Institute of Electrical and Optical Communications Engineering (INT) at the  and the Institut für Mikroelektronik Stuttgart (IMS CHIPS) are claiming a new world record in the energy efficient integration in silicon.

The achievement is an important step to decrease the energy consumption of data transfer in internet and telecommunication. The researchers optimized aperiodic grating couplers in the nanometer range with a new developed backside metal mirror. Through this new method a record coupling efficiency of 87 percent between optical fibers and photonic integrated waveguides on silicon wafers has been achieved.

The internet and telecommunications are based on an optical core network that connects cities worldwide using glass fibers. These can carry light with low losses over long distances. Based on a study published by CISCO, the mobile data transfer (smartphones) will solely increase from 885 petabytes per month (end of 2012) up to ten exabytes per month in the year 2017.

Researchers of the INT and IMS CHIPS have developed a fabrication process to realize complex sender and receiver structures that are integrated on silicon wafers. Existing optical senders and receivers are based on indium phosphide substrates, which are available only in small dimensions and to high costs. Experts predict that optical connections will be necessary in the home computer of the year 2020 to exchange the huge amount of data between individual components of the computer. The used light has a frequency of around 192 Terahertz and can offer bandwidths of several Terahertz and data rates beyond 1 Terabit/s. Worldwide researchers are trying to develop new components to make use of these tremendous data rates in commercial products. Because silicon is transparent at the used light frequency, this material can be utilized in waveguiding structures. Computing based on photons in nanoelectronic circuits can be then achieved in future computer components.

For this purpose light has to be efficiently guided in silicon waveguides and coupled from one component to another. The resulting energy losses have to be kept as small as possible. Researchers of the University of Stuttgart achieved the new world record in coupling efficiency between optical fibers and integrated