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Semiconductor Technology How to Make Semiconductors: Silicon Photonics Promise High Bandwidth Future

| Author / Editor: IBM / Sebastian Gerstl

Researchers at IBM attach silicon photonic chips directly onto a processor package promising a faster, cheaper and lower energy future for computing systems, including cloud data centers.

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CMOS silicon photonics chip: To profit from the new capabilities of silicon photonics, developing new system-level integration concepts is a necessity.
CMOS silicon photonics chip: To profit from the new capabilities of silicon photonics, developing new system-level integration concepts is a necessity.
(Source: IBM)

The computing and telecommunications industries have ambitious plans for the future: Systems that will store information in the cloud, analyze enormous amounts of data, and think more like a brain than a standard computer.

Such systems are already being developed, and scientists at IBM Research have now demonstrated what may be an important step toward commercializing this next generation of computing technology. They established a method to integrate silicon photonic chips with the processor in the same package, avoiding the need for transceiver assemblies.

Photons Instead of Electrons for Information Exchange

The new technique, which was presented at this year's OFC Conference and Exposition in Los Angeles, California, should lower the cost and increase the performance, energy efficiency and size of future data centers, supercomputers and cloud systems.

Photonic devices, which use photons instead of electrons to transport and manipulate information, offer many advantages compared to traditional electronic links found in today’s computers. Optical links can transmit more information over larger distances and are more energy efficient than copper-based links.

Combining Optical and Electrical Chips

To optimally benefit from this technology, a tight integration of the electrical logic and optical transmission functions is required. The optical chip needs to be as close to the electrical chip as possible to minimize the distance of electrical connection between them. This can only be accomplished if they are packaged together.

"IBM has been a pioneer in the area of CMOS integrated silicon photonics for more than 12 years, a technology that integrates functions for optical communications on a silicon chip," said Bert Offrein, manager of the photonics group at IBM Research, Zurich. "In addition to the silicon technology advancements at the chip-level, novel system-level integration concepts are also required to fully profit from the new capabilities silicon photonics will bring," he continued.

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