Silicon Photonics – The path to low cost integrated optics

You may hear about the buzz word “Silicon Photonics” from the press coverage in the last few years. In fact, Silicon Photonics (or silicon based optoelectronics) is beginning to become a technical focus, because it potentially offers an entirely new generation of low-cost photonic integrated circuits, which will perform functions traditionally accomplished using much more expensive components based on III-V semiconductor materials. The primary driving force for silicon photonics development is the demand for cost effective optical interconnect technology in microelectronics industry. It is also expected that silicon photonics could find a wider range of applications beyond the optical communications arena.

Silicon photonics takes advantage of the low cost nature of the silicon based photonic components, the high volume manufacturability, and the potential of CMOS electronic and photonic integration. The enabling technologies include development of various silicon based components such as light sources, optical waveguides, optical modulators, light detectors, and electronic intelligence. By integrating these fundamental building blocks on a single silicon substrate, one could produce a silicon photonic chip that has both electronic and photonic functionalities with performance and cost benefits as compared to the device based on discrete components. Such a technology could eventually revolutionize the convergence of microelectronics and photonics industries.

In the last few years, there were significant technology breakthroughs in the field of silicon photonics. Various silicon photonic components such as silicon optical modulator, SiGe photo-detectors, silicon Raman lasers, silicon optical amplifiers, silicon wavelength converters, and hybrid silicon lasers have been demonstrated. Nevertheless, more technical advances are needed for productization. These include device performance enhancement, monolithic and/or hybrid integration of photonics and electronics, as well as advanced packaging. With the technical development in all these areas, silicon photonics will, in my opinion, provide the path to low-cost integrated optics.

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