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Cluster to boost silicon photonics transfer

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Caren B. Les,

A number of European research and development project consortia have clustered to facilitate the transfer of silicon photonics technology from the research stage to industrial development.

The 10 projects – called Boom, Historic, Helios, InTopSens, PhotonFab, Platon, Sofi, UK Silicon Photonics, Wadimos and Sabio – are funded by more than $36 million in investments by the European Union and European countries. The teams consist of about 70 partners in total, about one-third of which are companies; the remaining partners are research institutes and academic research groups.

“The commitment of industrial players is one of the key challenges for the cluster,” said Laurent Fulbert, photonics program manager of the Grenoble, France-based Electronics and Information Technology Laboratory of the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA-Leti). “If Europe is among the leaders in R&D in the field of silicon photonics with excellent universities and research institutes, only a few industrial companies are active. Raising awareness of the potential of silicon photonics among chip foundries, end users, startups and other companies is one of the primary objectives of the cluster.”

European silicon photonics research and development consortia have formed a cluster organization. Pictured is an eight-channel arrayed waveguide grating with eight germanium photodiodes bonded on a CMOS circuit. Courtesy of CEA-Leti.

Overall, the cluster’s projects aim to introduce silicon photonics in innovative products. The new cluster also intends to organize common events such as workshops, symposia and training sessions that involve the dissemination of information on development in the field, Fulbert said. Each project has its own work plan, but some partners are common to several projects to facilitate “cross fertilization.” The cluster also will work to publicize the results of the projects to the broader industry and public, and to train young scientists, engineers and researchers in the field.

Silicon photonics uses CMOS techniques to integrate optics technology onto microchips. Because silicon is used as a substrate for most integrated circuits, it is possible to fabricate devices that integrate optical and electronic components on a single microchip. This in turn could lower the cost, size and power consumption compared to existing photonics technologies while improving device performance, according to CEA-Leti.

The group is pictured during the launch meeting of the European Silicon Photonics Cluster. Courtesy of CEA-Leti.

There is a consensus among the project members that maintaining photonic chip design and chip integration functions in Europe will improve the region’s competitive edge in this field in the global marketplace.

“The creation of the cluster has been launched by the project Helios, which is coordinated by us,” Fulbert said. “Helios is by far the biggest project in the cluster, and this is why we act as the contact point for it.” Both CEA-Leti and Imec Interuniversity Micro-Electronics Center, an independent organization based in Leuven, Belgium, with a staff of more than 1750 people, play an important role in the cluster because they are members of most of the projects. Both institutes have microelectronics facilities that are used extensively for the fabrication of silicon photonics circuits.

Helios (pHotonics ELectronics functional Integration on CMOS) is a consortium of 19 partners that aims to combine a photonic layer with a CMOS circuit using microelectronic fabrication processes. Launched in 2008, the four-year project is intended to drive European research and technology development in the field and lead the way for industrial development. CEA-Leti, the project leader, develops the technical building blocks – sources, modulators and detectors as well as process integrators and the fabrication of demonstrators. Helios has recently announced an online course on silicon photonics.

The PhotonFab project, of which Imec and CEA-Leti are partners, is a Support Action in the European Union’s Seventh Research Framework Programme FP7 that aims to lower the barriers for R&D on silicon photonic integrated circuits by enhancing the platform ePIXfab. The latter program organizes wafer-scale fabrication of the circuits for research and prototyping. PhotonFab’s objective is to lower the cost, effort, learning curve and risk for those involved with prototyping the circuits.

Coordinated by Imec, the three-year Wadimos (Wavelength Division Multiplexed Photonic Layer on CMOS) project began in January 2008 and includes partners from industry as well as research institutes and universities. The goal of the undertaking is to build a photonic interconnect layer incorporating multichannel microsources, microdetectors and various-wavelength routing functions directly integrated with electronic driver circuits, and to demonstrate the technology’s application.

The Historic (Heterogeneous InP on Silicon Technology for Optical Routing and LogIC) project aims to develop digital photonic integrated circuits that contain combined active and passive photonic elements for use in areas such as all-optical packet switching for datacom and telecom applications. Imec is the prime contractor for the three-year plan, which began in 2008. It includes partners from industry, research and academia.

A European Commission FP7-ICT project for information and communications technology, the Boom consortium intends to advance silicon-on-insulator integration technology to develop compact, cost-effective and energy-efficient silicon photonic components that enable terabit-per-second (Tb/s)-capacity systems for high-speed broadband core networks. It specializes in terabit-on-chip technology: micro- and nanoscale silicon photonic integrated components and subsystems that enable Tb/s-capacity fully integrated photonic routers. Launched in May 2008, the project is coordinated by The Institute of Communication and Computer Systems/National Technical University of Athens in Greece, which participates in Boom with the Photonics Communications Research Laboratory at the university.

“Plasmonics ‘in-the-box’” is the tag-line for Platon, a three-year European Commission FP7-ICT project that was launched in January 2010. The goal of the program is to develop an integrated on-chip Tb/s optical router for backplane or blade server interconnects, employing plasmonics for switching functions and silicon photonics for filtering, multiplexing and header detection processes. Coordinating the consortium is the Center for Research and Technology Hellas/Informatics and Telematics Institute in Greece. Its technical role includes modeling and design of nanophotonics (plasmonics and silicon-based).

The team project Sofi (Silicon-Organic hybrid Fabrication platform for Integrated circuits), coordinated by professor Jürg Leuthold of the Institute of Photonics and Quantum Electronics at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, introduces active optical waveguides and integrated optoelectronic circuits based on a novel silicon-organic hybrid technology. Based on the CMOS process for fabrication of the waveguides, the technology enables the convergence of electronics with optics. A two-year project, Sofi was launched in January 2010.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and launched in 2008, UK Silicon Photonics is a five-year project that encompasses the expertise of several UK universities and an industrial firm. It is targeting interconnect applications as well as generic device functions such as the interfacing of optical signals within submicron waveguides.

InTopSens (a highly INTegrated OPtical SENSor), a project for point-of-care label-free identification of pathogenic bacteria strains and their resistance, was launched in 2008. The three-year project draws from the fields of photonic structures, electronics, fluidics and biochemistry to develop a cost-effective sensor technology that can rapidly diagnose sepsis, a life-threatening bacterial infection of the blood. To meet its objective, the seven-partner consortium is working to demonstrate a compact polymer- and silicon-based CMOS-compatible photonic sensor. The InTopSens coordinator is Daniel Hill at KTH – the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.

Another biomedical enterprise is the now completed multidisciplinary project Sabio (Ultrahigh Sensitivity Slot-Waveguide Biosensor on a Highly Integrated Chip for Simultaneous Diagnosis of Multiple Diseases), which draws on the fields of micronanotechnology, photonics, fluidics and biochemistry for the development of intelligent medical diagnostic equipment. The goal of the project was to develop a rapid diagnostic tool that can be used outside of the laboratory. Coordinated by the Universidad Politecnica de Valencia, Spain, the program encompassed partners from industry and academia.

Oct 2010
The study of how light interacts with nanoscale objects and the technology of applying photons to the manipulation or sensing of nanoscale structures.
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