Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Future of computing? A step closer to a photonic future

Date:
February 19, 2014
Source:
The Optical Society
Summary:
The future of computing may lie not in electrons, but in photons -- in microprocessors that use light instead of electrical signals. But these photonic devices are typically built using customized methods that make them difficult and expensive to manufacture. Now, engineers have demonstrated that low power photonic devices can be fabricated using standard chip-making processes. The team dubs this a major milestone in photonic technology.

3D render of the modulator which efficiently imprints electrical data onto an optical light wave.
Credit: Mark Wade

The future of computing may lie not in electrons, but in photons -- that is, in microprocessors that use light instead of electrical signals. But these so-called photonic devices are typically built using customized methods that make them difficult and expensive to manufacture.

Related Articles


Now, engineers have demonstrated that low power photonic devices can be fabricated using standard chip-making processes. They have achieved what the researchers dub a major milestone in photonic technology. The work will be presented at this year's Optical Fiber Communication (OFC) Conference and Exposition, being held March 9-13 in San Francisco.

The two new devices -- a modulator and a tunable filter -- are as energy-efficient as some of the best devices around, the researchers say, and were built using a standard IBM advanced Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) process -- the same chip-making process used to build many commercially available chips, some of which are found in Sony's Playstation 3 and also in Watson, the supercomputer that won Jeopardy! in 2011.

"As far as we know, we're the first ones to get silicon photonics natively integrated into an advanced CMOS process and to achieve energy efficiencies that are very competitive with electronics," said Mark Wade of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who will present his team's work at OFC. Wade's co-authors include researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley.

Quenching a Thirst for Power

Moore's Law says that the number of transistors that can fit on a chip doubles every two years, resulting in the exponential rise in computing power we have seen over the last few decades. But even as transistors continue to shrink, Moore's Law may be reaching its limits, due to the fact that the devices are requiring more power to run, which leads to overheating.

Such thirst for power is especially problematic for the communication link between a computer's central processing unit and its memory.

"It's gotten to the point where it takes too much energy and that limits your computational power," Wade said.

A solution to this problem may lie in photonics, which researchers anticipate will be at least 10 times more energy efficient than electronics. Chip-to-chip communication links using these photonic devices could have at least 10 times higher bandwidth density, meaning they can transmit much more information using a smaller amount of space. That's because different optical signals can share the same optical wire, whereas sending multiple electrical signals either requires multiple electronic wires or schemes that require more chip space and energy.

But so far, Wade explains, photonic devices used in chip-to-chip communication have been primarily custom-built using specialized methods, limiting their commercial applicability. And devices that have been created with more standardized techniques rely on older technology, which limits their ability to compete with cutting-edge electronics.

On the Road to Commercialization

The ability to produce high-performing photonic devices using the CMOS process means chip designers will not have to be specialists to design photonic devices, Wade explained, which will hopefully accelerate the commercialization of photonic technology.

"IBM's CMOS process has already been commercially proven to make high-quality microelectronics products," Wade said. The work was part of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Photonically Optimized Embedded Microprocessors (POEM) project.

The two devices built by the researchers are key components for the communication link between a computer's central processing unit and its memory. A modulator converts electrical signals into optical signals. A tunable filter can pick out light signals of particular frequencies, allowing it to select a signal from multiple frequencies, each of which carries data. Used in conjunction with a photodetector, the filter converts optical signals to electrical signals.

But according to Wade, the significance of this advancement goes beyond this particular application.

"This is a really nice first step for silicon photonics to take over some areas of technology where electronics has really dominated and to start building complex electronic/photonic systems that require dense integration," Wade said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by The Optical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

The Optical Society. "Future of computing? A step closer to a photonic future." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140219124732.htm>.
The Optical Society. (2014, February 19). Future of computing? A step closer to a photonic future. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140219124732.htm
The Optical Society. "Future of computing? A step closer to a photonic future." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140219124732.htm (accessed October 24, 2014).

Share This



More Computers & Math News

Friday, October 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Real-Life Transformer Robot Walks, Then Folds Into a Car

Real-Life Transformer Robot Walks, Then Folds Into a Car

Buzz60 (Oct. 24, 2014) — Brave Robotics and Asratec teamed with original Transformers toy company Tomy to create a functional 5-foot-tall humanoid robot that can march and fold itself into a 3-foot-long sports car. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Microsoft Riding High On Strong Surface, Cloud Performance

Microsoft Riding High On Strong Surface, Cloud Performance

Newsy (Oct. 24, 2014) — Microsoft's Q3 earnings showed its tablets and cloud services are really hitting their stride. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Apps to Organize Your Life

The Best Apps to Organize Your Life

Buzz60 (Oct. 23, 2014) — Need help organizing your bills, schedules and other things? Ko Im (@konakafe) has the best apps to help you stay on top of it all! Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Nike And Apple Team Up To Create Wearable ... Something

Nike And Apple Team Up To Create Wearable ... Something

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) — For those looking for wearable tech that's significantly less nerdy than Google Glass, Nike CEO Mark Parker says don't worry, It's on the way. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins