USAF works to improve silicon photonics processes
ARLINGTON, Va. – The US Air Force Office of Scientific Research announced that it
will fund efforts to put silicon photonics within the grasp of scientists and startup
companies. The new program will be called OpSIS, short for Optoelectronic Systems
Integration in Silicon, and will be housed at the University of Washington’s
Nanophotonics Lab in Seattle.
The OpSIS program’s goal is to bring prototyping capabilities
within reach of startup companies and researchers. It will provide design rules,
device-design support and design-flow development to nonexperts so they can design
and integrate photonics and electronics.
Although many research groups are designing, building and testing
silicon photonic devices or optical chips in-house, the OpSIS researchers will use
a shared infrastructure at the foundry at BAE Systems in Manassas, Va. There, they
will work toward creating high-end, on-shore manufacturing capabilities that they
hope will be made available to a wider community.
A dark-field optical image of a silicon photonic chip is shown in comparison to the
size of a penny. Courtesy of Elijah Douglas Christenson.
Over the past decade, silicon photonics has brought about a digital
electronics revolution. But high cost and a lack of standard processes have kept
complex photonic circuitry incorporating silicon chips has been out of reach for
researchers in the past few years. In an effort to make silicon photonics more accessible,
scientists are building a less expensive, next-generation silicon-based electro-optical
chip using commercial nanofabrication tools; the new chips could improve data communications,
lasers and detectors.
Silicon optical chips are crucial to the US Air Force because
of their size, weight, power, rapid cycle time and program risk reduction –
and, most importantly, because they can move information in computers using light
By harnessing the ability to develop optical chips for commercial
uses and create software tools that will make the design process easier, the integration
of silicon photonics into new system capabilities is expected to impact the Air
Force, the Department of Defense and commercial avionics.
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