A consortium of UK researchers has been awarded over £5m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for silicon photonics research.
Dr Rob Kelsall, who leads the Leeds group, said: ‘Computers and other electronic equipment have been driven by both industry and consumer demand to deliver ever-faster functionality and communications. We expect to be able to send and receive larger files of data, images and video – but this is asking a lot from copper wires.
‘There would be a huge speed advantage if we could transmit this data using light. We already see this on a large scale in long-distance telephone calls, where the optical fibres under the Atlantic enable huge numbers of calls to be made to and from the US. We now need to do this on a micro scale.’
The project is looking to develop demonstrator systems in which all the optical components are made from silicon.
‘It’s not an easy task to integrate optical and electrical components on the same silicon chip,’ said Kelsall, ‘The system will need components that convert electrical signals to optical signals, devices that transmit and amplify optical signals and others to convert them back to electrical signals again.’
‘Silicon has been the material of choice for the microelectronics industry for around 40 years, partly due to the cost effective way in which it can be processed. But no-one has managed to integrate all these optical functions into silicon in a way that would take its application to the next level,’ he said.
The size and complexity of the task has led to the construction of a consortium that includes key researchers in the fields of electronic engineering, physics and materials science, as well as industrial partners such as Intel, Qinetiq and silicon manufacturing research laboratory IMEC.