Intel brings light speed to chips

Intel has used a new manufacturing method to make silicon chips that can produce and direct laser light, which could lead to much faster data processing and communication.

Researchers from Intel and the University of California, Santa Barbara built the world’s first electrically powered Hybrid Silicon Laser using standard silicon manufacturing processes. This keeps the price down, paving the way to producing low-cost, high-bandwidth silicon photonics devices.

The researchers combined 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.

‘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.’

The key to manufacturing the device is the use of low-temperature, oxygen plasma to create a thin oxide layer, roughly 25 atoms thick, on the surfaces of both materials.