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  • Funds to Push Photon Chip
Jan 2008
DALLAS, Texas, Jan. 18, 2008 -- The University of Texas Dallas (UT Dallas) has received a $1.75 million grant from DARPA to develop microchip technology that’s smaller, faster and more energy-efficient than anything on the market today. The secret ingredient is light.

Like many modern devices, the new technology will be silicon-based, but it will use photons rather than electrons.

“This research is intended to produce a completely new class of components that could have a revolutionary impact on information engineering,” said Duncan MacFarlane, a professor of electrical engineering at UT Dallas and principal investigator for the grant. DARPA is the central research and development organization of the Department of Defense.

“The photonic integrated circuit we’re developing will be a versatile, programmable, scalable device that will process photonic signals and provide a sophisticated and practical interface with existing electronics,” he added.

In addition to meeting DARPA's need for increasingly sophisticated technology, the 18-month effort is intended to demonstrate how photonics can enable the semiconductor industry to continue its decades-long record of regularly producing more powerful chips.

"The current roadmap for semiconductor evolution envisions the need for just such an innovation in coming years, when current design and manufacturing processes are expected to encounter physical barriers to continued miniaturization," the university said in a statement.

The grant was awarded based on the researchers’ progress in the analysis and design of photonic technology as well as their creation of a nanophotonic development facility. The research project, a collaboration known as PhASER (photonic analog signal processing engines with reconfigurability) will also involve four other organizations:
  • Southern Methodist University researchers have been collaborating with UT Dallas researchers for five years on photonic integrated circuitry, and they’ll continue analyzing and optimizing designs using a powerful computing cluster at SMU.
  • Photodigm Inc., an eight-year-old Dallas-area photonics technology company that has also been working with UTD researchers for several years, will participate in device design and fabrication.
  • Military contractors Northrop Grumman Corp. and Raytheon Co. will evaluate the technology’s performance in high-tech antenna systems and laser radar.
“This award is a great vote of confidence from DARPA and reflects the talent on the team we’ve assembled,” MacFarlane added. That team includes UT Dallas faculty members Bob Hunt, Vish Ramakrishna and Jiyoung Kim as well as Gary Evans and Marc Christensen, who are each associated with both Photodigm and SMU.

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The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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