Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Graphene optical modulators could lead to ultrafast communications

09.05.2011
Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have demonstrated a new technology for graphene that could break the current speed limits in digital communications.

The team of researchers, led by UC Berkeley engineering professor Xiang Zhang, built a tiny optical device that uses graphene, a one-atom-thick layer of crystallized carbon, to switch light on and off. This switching ability is the fundamental characteristic of a network modulator, which controls the speed at which data packets are transmitted. The faster the data pulses are sent out, the greater the volume of information that can be sent.

Graphene-based modulators could soon allow consumers to stream full-length, high-definition, 3-D movies onto a smartphone in a matter of seconds, the researchers said.

"This is the world's smallest optical modulator, and the modulator in data communications is the heart of speed control," said Zhang, who directs a National Science Foundation (NSF) Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center at UC Berkeley. "Graphene enables us to make modulators that are incredibly compact and that potentially perform at speeds up to ten times faster than current technology allows. This new technology will significantly enhance our capabilities in ultrafast optical communication and computing."

In this latest work, described in the May 8 advanced online publication of the journal Nature, researchers were able to tune the graphene electrically to absorb light in wavelengths used in data communication. This advance adds yet another advantage to graphene, which has gained a reputation as a wonder material since 2004 when it was first extracted from graphite, the same element in pencil lead. That achievement earned University of Manchester scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov the Nobel Prize in Physics last year.

Zhang worked with fellow faculty member Feng Wang, an assistant professor of physics and head of the Ultrafast Nano-Optics Group at UC Berkeley. Both Zhang and Wang are faculty scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Materials Science Division.

"The impact of this technology will be far-reaching," said Wang. "In addition to high-speed operations, graphene-based modulators could lead to unconventional applications due to graphene's flexibility and ease in integration with different kinds of materials. Graphene can also be used to modulate new frequency ranges, such as mid-infrared light, that are widely used in molecular sensing."

Graphene is the thinnest, strongest crystalline material yet known. It can be stretched like rubber, and it has the added benefit of being an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. This last quality of graphene makes it a particularly attractive material for electronics.

"Graphene is compatible with silicon technology and is very cheap to make," said Ming Liu, post-doctoral researcher in Zhang's lab and co-lead author of the study. "Researchers in Korea last year have already produced 30-inch sheets of it. Moreover, very little graphene is required for use as a modulator. The graphite in a pencil can provide enough graphene to fabricate 1 billion optical modulators."

It is the behavior of photons and electrons in graphene that first caught the attention of the UC Berkeley researchers.

The researchers found that the energy of the electrons, referred to as its Fermi level, can be easily altered depending upon the voltage applied to the material. The graphene's Fermi level in turn determines if the light is absorbed or not.

When a sufficient negative voltage is applied, electrons are drawn out of the graphene and are no longer available to absorb photons. The light is "switched on" because the graphene becomes totally transparent as the photons pass through.

Graphene is also transparent at certain positive voltages because, in that situation, the electrons become packed so tightly that they cannot absorb the photons.

The researchers found a sweet spot in the middle where there is just enough voltage applied so the electrons can prevent the photons from passing, effectively switching the light "off."

"If graphene were a hallway, and electrons were people, you could say that, when the hall is empty, there's no one around to stop the photons," said Xiaobo Yin, co-lead author of the Nature paper and a research scientist in Zhang's lab. "In the other extreme, when the hall is too crowded, people can't move and are ineffective in blocking the photons. It's in between these two scenarios that the electrons are allowed to interact with and absorb the photons, and the graphene becomes opaque."

In their experiment, the researchers layered graphene on top of a silicon waveguide to fabricate optical modulators. The researchers were able to achieve a modulation speed of 1 gigahertz, but they noted that the speed could theoretically reach as high as 500 gigahertz for a single modulator.

While components based upon optics have many advantages over those that use electricity, including the ability to carry denser packets of data more quickly, attempts to create optical interconnects that fit neatly onto a computer chip have been hampered by the relatively large amount of space required in photonics.

Light waves are less agile in tight spaces than their electrical counterparts, the researchers noted, so photon-based applications have been primarily confined to large-scale devices, such as fiber optic lines.

"Electrons can easily make an L-shaped turn because the wavelengths in which they operate are small," said Zhang. "Light wavelengths are generally bigger, so they need more space to maneuver. It's like turning a long, stretch limo instead of a motorcycle around a corner. That's why optics require bulky mirrors to control their movements. Scaling down the optical device also makes it faster because the single atomic layer of graphene can significantly reduce the capacitance – the ability to hold an electric charge – which often hinders device speed."

Graphene-based modulators could overcome the space barrier of optical devices, the researchers said. They successfully shrunk a graphene-based optical modulator down to a relatively tiny 25 square microns, a size roughly 400 times smaller than a human hair. The footprint of a typical commercial modulator can be as large as a few square millimeters.

Even at such a small size, graphene packs a punch in bandwidth capability. Graphene can absorb a broad spectrum of light, ranging over thousands of nanometers from ultraviolet to infrared wavelengths. This allows graphene to carry more data than current state-of-the-art modulators, which operate at a bandwidth of up to 10 nanometers, the researchers said.

"Graphene-based modulators not only offer an increase in modulation speed, they can enable greater amounts of data packed into each pulse," said Zhang. "Instead of broadband, we will have 'extremeband.' What we see here and going forward with graphene-based modulators are tremendous improvements, not only in consumer electronics, but in any field that is now limited by data transmission speeds, including bioinformatics and weather forecasting. We hope to see industrial applications of this new device in the next few years."

Other UC Berkeley co-authors of this paper are graduate student Erick Ulin-Avila and post-doctoral researcher Thomas Zentgraf in Zhang's lab; and visiting scholar Baisong Geng and graduate student Long Ju in Wang's lab.

This work was supported through the Center for Scalable and Integrated Nano-Manufacturing (SINAM), an NSF Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center. Funding from the Department of Energy's Basic Energy Science program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory also helped support this research.

Sarah Yang | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.berkeley.edu

Further reports about: Nature Immunology graphene industrial application nanoscale

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht The TU Ilmenau develops tomorrow’s chip technology today
27.04.2017 | Technische Universität Ilmenau

nachricht Five developments for improved data exploitation
19.04.2017 | Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz GmbH, DFKI

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>