Who built the ultra-low-loss integrated photonic circuits recently & why?

Lalit Koundaal

Optical communication is not unfamiliar to at least the internet users. Encoding information to light and using optical fibers to carry the information faster at the lightning speed is an old normal. 

Surprisingly, the consumers are looking for still faster internet! Now, this necessitates the hunt for material that can exhibit good optical properties, the material with very low optical loss?

There is an incredible loss of 0.2dB/Km through the optical fiber made from silica. These fibers are the backbone of today’s global telecommunications network popularly known as GAN, WAN, and LAN.

The answer is, yes!

Integrated silicon nitride photonic chips with meter-long spiral waveguides.
CREDIT: Jijun He, Junqiu Liu (EPFL)

It’s Silicon Nitride (Si3N4) that has emerged as new platform which has low optical loss to offer.

Silicon Nitride as new platform –

A group of scientists, at EPFL’s school of basic sciences, has developed a new technology for fabricating silicon nitride integrated photonic circuits with record low optical losses. ‘Nature Communications published the work recently.

The team made integrated circuits that offered optical losses of only 1dB/m, which is a record value for any non-linear integrated photonic material.

The team is looking forward to seeing their technology being used for emerging applications such as coherent LiDAR, photonic neural networks, and quantum computing. Also, the transfer of Si3N4 Technology to commercial foundries would add to the performance and capability of integrated photonics.

Photonic Revolutions & Optical fibers-beyond communication

The Silicon photonics market is booming- booming fast. From 2013 to 2019, the value of the market grew $22 million $100 million. And it’s expected to quadruple in the next five years due to advances in communication, data centers, and computing. 

It was in 1960 when Theodore ignited the first flash of Laser, in 1980 Optical fibers were put to use in telecommunications and now there are photonic tools for probing our world. There is never a day in our life without using the laser. 

Silicon Photonics is among one of the very few areas in physics to be adopted in the industry within less than 10 years of its completion.

These are the prominent areas where the silicon photonics is being used widely- 

  1. Medicine
  2. Biological genetics research
  3. Defence
  4. Industrial Material Processing
  5. Chemical & Pollution sensing
  6. Next Gen Lasers
  7. Optical data processing
  8. Transmitting light beyond the near IR

Silicon, 15 years back was only a microelectronics material. No one ever did anything with light using silicon. And now, silicon photonics is everywhere. All the companies doing microelectronics are also doing photo electronics as well because the future lies in embracing the latest technology.

The reason why this grew so fast was the enormous demand for material where the data transmission has power dissipation issue. Silicon solves it all. For instance- touch an optical fiber cable it’s cold whereas you touch the copper wire carrying data you can sense the heat.

What is photonics?

The particle of light is called a photon, that’s why the technology is called photonics which is a combination of the word “photon” and “electronics.” Photonics can be considered to be science and the application of light. Photonic applications use the photon in the same way that electronic applications use electrons.

Light can make devices such as computers, mobile phones, and medical instruments faster and more energy-efficient. Photonics is when the light hits the solid and is turned into electronics and digital signal and imaging is what happens after that information is captured and digitized.

Companies like Google, and Apple, and Facebook rely heavily on imaging. The integrated photonics, along with photonics and optics will enable new imaging technologies and imaging is really where the future is at.

One of the reasons why photonics is the future is that light travels faster than electricity. There is a big need to make things faster, less energy, smaller & more cheaply and replacing electrons with photons does it all.

Photonics has many applications. It has lasers, light-emitting diodes, photovoltaics, and integrated photonics is one of them. 

Sources-

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21973-z

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhDxXYfZmTY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfuU4j88odc&t=2190s

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-04/epfd-ntb041421.php

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