New system could be used in variety of communications, computer devices
A UT Arlington electrical engineering professor, funded by a new National Science Foundation grant, is working to harness the power of lasers on silicon chips to increase capacity and speed in computing and communications systems.
Weidong Zhou, a professor of electrical engineering with the UT Arlington Nanotechnology Research Center, said the research will advance the use of lasers on silicon based on the breakthroughs reported by his group on printed photonic crystals membrane lasers on silicon last year in Nature Photonics. His colleague, Zhenqiang Ma at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is collaborating on the $352,982 grant project.
Low-cost silicon chips are used to efficiently house integrated electronic circuits for information processing in a variety of computer and communications devices. Lasers, by comparison, are traditionally incorporated into compound semiconductor materials to engineer high-capacity optical networks.
Silicon photonics – a popular area of research – seeks to integrate the two.
"Lasers on silicon remain a major roadblock toward making integrated silicon photonics work," Zhou said. "Integrating light or lasers on those silicon chips has the potential to increase capacity, increase speed and lower the energy consumption of what those chips do."
Zhou's technology uses photonic crystals to route laser beams in a method that increases the efficiency of the light on the integrated circuit.
"It's like building construction vertically in New York City because there's nowhere to build horizontally," Zhou said.
The technology could eventually allow designers to place optical links on silicon chips with much less wasted material, time and effort, he said. The research has applications for optical imaging, sensing, bio-integrated electronics, signal processing and data transmission, among other uses.
Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the College of Engineering, said Zhou's work has the potential to positively affect many platforms.
"Every day, we hear about limitations of available space on the Internet, how much faster data transfer must become to remain competitive and how much energy is consumed by everyone who accesses data," Behbehani said. "Dr. Zhou's work can solve some of those challenges."