June 29, 1999 Materials chemists at the University of Toront have created a new kind of silicon film that could lead one day to entirely photonic computer and telecommunications systems.
The films, produced by professor Geoffrey Ozin, graduate student Hong Yang and researcher Omer Dag of the department of chemistry, are luminescent - meaning they emit and transmit photons, the basic particle of light. The discovery is a significant step forward in the fast-growing field of photonics, which seeks to create computers and other machines that use photons rather than electric current to transmit and process information.
"The method is suitable for mass production and holds out the promise of new improved light-emitting diodes, optical interconnectors, displays and chemical sensors," says Ozin.
While faster and more efficient photonic technologies are already widely used (fibre optics, CD-ROMs), the creation of a whole computer or switching system using light rather than electricity awaits a photonic replacement for the electronic semiconductor, the building block of computer chips. But previous attempts to find a luminescent equivalent for the micro-wiring used in chips have been too expensive, or involved toxic or unstable materials. And while materials scientists have known for a decade how to make silicon luminescent, the means of doing so in a thin layer suitable for chip production has eluded them, until now.
The materials fabrication method invented at U of T could be the first step toward photonic chips that, because they use silicon, are as safe and inexpensive as the electronic chips they would replace, says Ozin, whose team's results recently appeared in the journal Advanced Materials.
CONTACT: Bruce Rolston
U of T Public Affairs
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