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Silicon photonics is seen as the most likely candidate for inter-chip and perhaps intra-chip communications, but also for use in data centre interconnect, fibre-to-the-home transceivers, and as a platform for lab-on-a chip sensors.
Despite significant progress in the recent years, in order to successfully transform photonics in this way, several key research challenges still need to be overcome.
We hold the EPSRC Programme Grant "Silicon Photonics for Future Systems" – a six-year research programme that aims to tackle these research challenges. Successful solutions to them will facilitate a revolution in low-cost photonics, and one of our goals is to place the United Kingdom at its centre.
To succeed in mass markets silicon photonics requires: (i) a low cost method of comprehensively testing at the wafer scale; (ii) a passive alignment coupling technique from fibre to optical chip; (iii) a means of scaling the functionality of the photonic circuit; (iv) very low power, high data rate modulators; and (v) low cost integrated lasers on chip. To date there are no satisfactory solutions for any of these issues. The goal of this programme is to find solutions for them all and develop commercial processes that will enable mass manufacture of silicon photonic devices.
We already have a lead in some of these key areas, having recently demonstrated the best modulators in the world; novel wavelength multiplexers; integrated systems; and the world’s first erasable silicon Bragg gratings that enable wafer-scale testing of silicon photonic devices - an important step towards commercialisation of this revolutionary platform.
We are working on optical chips in silicon with multiple photonic layers which not only multiply the capacity of a chip but will allow layers with different characteristics to dramatically increase chip performance and functionality. We are also developing low-cost, self-aligned lasers within silicon photonic circuits and a fibre-to-waveguide coupling technique that relies only on passive alignment, the holy grail for low cost photonic packaging. It is widely recognised, that packaging and comprehensive wafer scale testing have been largely neglected, something that we will correct.
The state-of-the-art facilities at the Zepler Institute enable us to make strides in these key areas of this project. The Zepler Institute has the same facilities as a modern-day foundry, but is more flexible and more cost-effective than a commercial foundry service.
As foundries across the globe move to standard processes, the Zepler Institute can offer researchers a place where they can still experiment, work at the device level and use non-standard processes in order to innovate.
For more information on our current projects please visit www.orc.soton.ac.uk