Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

CU, MIT breakthrough in photonics could allow for faster and faster electronics

02.10.2013
A pair of breakthroughs in the field of silicon photonics by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Micron Technology Inc. could allow for the trajectory of exponential improvement in microprocessors that began nearly half a century ago—known as Moore's Law—to continue well into the future, allowing for increasingly faster electronics, from supercomputers to laptops to smartphones.

The research team, led by CU-Boulder researcher Milos Popovic, an assistant professor of electrical, computer and energy engineering, developed a new technique that allows microprocessors to use light, instead of electrical wires, to communicate with transistors on a single chip, a system that could lead to extremely energy-efficient computing and a continued skyrocketing of computing speed into the future.

Popovic and his colleagues created two different optical modulators—structures that detect electrical signals and translate them into optical waves—that can be fabricated within the same processes already used in industry to create today's state-of-the-art electronic microprocessors. The modulators are described in a recent issue of the journal Optics Letters.

First laid out in 1965, Moore's Law predicted that the size of the transistors used in microprocessors could be shrunk by half about every two years for the same production cost, allowing twice as many transistors to be placed on the same-sized silicon chip. The net effect would be a doubling of computing speed every couple of years.

The projection has held true until relatively recently. While transistors continue to get smaller, halving their size today no longer leads to a doubling of computing speed. That's because the limiting factor in microelectronics is now the power that's needed to keep the microprocessors running. The vast amount of electricity required to flip on and off tiny, densely packed transistors causes excessive heat buildup.

"The transistors will keep shrinking and they'll be able to continue giving you more and more computing performance," Popovic said. "But in order to be able to actually take advantage of that you need to enable energy-efficient communication links."

Microelectronics also are limited by the fact that placing electrical wires that carry data too closely together can result in "cross talk" between the wires.

In the last half-dozen years, microprocessor manufacturers, such as Intel, have been able to continue increasing computing speed by packing more than one microprocessor into a single chip to create multiple "cores." But that technique is limited by the amount of communication that then becomes necessary between the microprocessors, which also requires hefty electricity consumption.

Using light waves instead of electrical wires for microprocessor communication functions could eliminate the limitations now faced by conventional microprocessors and extend Moore's Law into the future, Popovic said.

Optical communication circuits, known as photonics, have two main advantages over communication that relies on conventional wires: Using light has the potential to be brutally energy efficient, and a single fiber-optic strand can carry a thousand different wavelengths of light at the same time, allowing for multiple communications to be carried simultaneously in a small space and eliminating cross talk.

Optical communication is already the foundation of the Internet and the majority of phone lines. But to make optical communication an economically viable option for microprocessors, the photonics technology has to be fabricated in the same foundries that are being used to create the microprocessors. Photonics have to be integrated side-by-side with the electronics in order to get buy-in from the microprocessor industry, Popovic said.

"In order to convince the semiconductor industry to incorporate photonics into microelectronics you need to make it so that the billions of dollars of existing infrastructure does not need to be wiped out and redone," Popovic said.

Last year, Popovic collaborated with scientists at MIT to show, for the first time, that such integration is possible. "We are building photonics inside the exact same process that they build microelectronics in," Popovic said. "We use this fabrication process and instead of making just electrical circuits, we make photonics next to the electrical circuits so they can talk to each other."

In two papers published last month in Optics Letters with CU-Boulder postdoctoral researcher Jeffrey Shainline as lead author, the research team refined their original photonic-electronic chip further, detailing how the crucial optical modulator, which encodes data on streams of light, could be improved to become more energy efficient. That optical modulator is compatible with a manufacturing process—known as Silicon-on-Insulator Complementary Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor, or SOI CMOS—used to create state-of-the-art multicore microprocessors such as the IBM Power7 and Cell, which is used in the Sony PlayStation 3.

The researchers also detailed a second type of optical modulator that could be used in a different chip-manufacturing process, called bulk CMOS, which is used to make memory chips and the majority of the world's high-end microprocessors.

Vladimir Stojanovic, who leads one of the MIT teams collaborating on the project and who is the lead principal investigator for the overall research program, said the group's work on optical modulators is a significant step forward.

"On top of the energy-efficiency and bandwidth-density advantages of silicon-photonics over electrical wires, photonics integrated into CMOS processes with no process changes provides enormous cost-benefits and advantage over traditional photonic systems," Stojanovic said.

The CU-led effort is a part of a larger project on building a complete photonic processor-memory system, which includes research teams from MIT led by Stojanovic, Rajeev Ram and Michael Watts, a team from Micron Technology led by Roy Meade and a team from the University of California, Berkeley, led by Krste Asanovic. The research was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation.

Milos Popovic | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.colorado.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers
21.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy
21.04.2017 | Stockholm University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

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...

Im Focus: Quantum-physical Model System

Computer-assisted methods aid Heidelberg physicists in reproducing experiment with ultracold atoms

Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...

Im Focus: Glacier bacteria’s contribution to carbon cycling

Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.

A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

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

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A promising target for kidney fibrosis

21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>