Silicon optic microchip could replace copper wiring

Engineers have designed and produced microscopic lasers integrated into silicon chips that offer a substantially fast alternative to copper wiring, and could eventually replace it in microchips and electronic products.

Researchers at Duke University, North Carolina, have created a film on silicon containing a light source which has been used to direct light to another chip or component, a new approach that will help engineers searching for a new generation of information carrier.

“Getting light onto silicon and controlling it is the first step toward chip scale optical systems,” according to Sabarni Palit, who has worked in Nan Marie Jokerst’s team developing the technology at Duke University.

IBM has also been making inroads into developing super-fast computers by developing an optical data transfer system, offering freedom from the constrictions of copper wiring by being much easier to keep cool, for example.

“The challenge has been creating light on such a small scale on silicon, and ensuring that it is received by the next component without losing most of the light,” Palit said of the findings which were published in online journal Optics Letters and supported by the  US Army Research Office.

“We came up with a way of creating a thin film integrated structure on silicon that not only contains a light source that can be kept cool, but can also accurately guide the wave onto its next connection. This integration of components is essential for any such chip-scale, light-based system.”

Marie Jokerst, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, highlighted the impact such technology could also potentially have in terms of smaller, consumer scale electronics:

“To use light in chip-scale systems is exciting. But the amount of power needed to run these systems has to be very small to make them portable, and they should be inexpensive to produce. There are applications for this in consumer electronics, medical diagnostics and environmental sensing.”