Integrated silicon photonics system promises smaller, cheaper and faster fiber optical telecommunications

Dr. Andrew Knights and his colleague Dr. Paul Jessop

Dr. Andrew Knights and his colleague Dr. Pauljessop, in the Department of Engineering Physics at McMaster University, broke new ground recently when their team integrated all the photonic devices required for tunable waveguide detection on a single silicon device. The device could operate at wavelengths from 151 0 to 1600 nanometers-a range suited for applications in fiber optic telecommunications.

Integrated silicon photonics offers the high-density integration of individual optical components on a single chip, strong light confinement for optimal control over optical signals, and low-loss, high-bandwidth data processing, all without the technical trade­ offs introduced by non-silicon processes.

Knights explains how his research benefits from these advantages: "Our device is a defect-mediated silicon photodetector that operates at standard telecommunications wavelengths, manufactured entirely in silicon. Compared to the previous generation of defect mediated detectors, the new device occupies significantly less chip surface area. Further, and in common with previously reported defect mediated detection, there is no requirement for processing steps that require the use of other materials such as germanium or indium phosphide. Using one standard silicon fabrication process in this manner provides significant manufacturing cost benefits."

One potential application of this optical detector is for splitting fiber optic signals in a wavelength division multiplexing system. The research team is working with a number of companies, including California-based lnnolume Inc., to create devices for optical interconnects, optical power monitors and custom sensing devices.

Knights credits a combination of the best and brightest students, and access to the world-class fabrication laboratory at CEA LETI (Grenoble, France), made possible through CMC, for keeping this work at the leading edge. He explains,"Our research would not be nearly as competitive without the high-quality students we recruit. It's the support on the ground that helps to make novel research possible. And quite clearly, without the support of CMC, this work could not proceed in Canada and we would struggle to maintain our status in this area."

Knights, an internationally-respected researcher and subject matter expert in the area of silicon photonics, has joined the UK Silicon Photonics Consortium, comprised of academic and industry leaders working to advance the field of silicon photonics and drive discovery. His McMaster research lab is the only North American academic participant in this consortium. By continuing his innovative work with high-profile industrial and academic partners, and with the continued support from CMC, Knights is confident that his team will ensure that Canadian researchers will deliver results aligned with the global silicon roadmap and help to influence the deployment of silicon photonics.

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