IBM has invented a chip that combines photonics and silicon on a single 90 nanometer (nm) die, which is capable of transferring data at 25Gbps.
The so-called silicon nanophotonics device (shown below) allows the integration of different optical components side-by-side with electrical circuits on a single silicon chip using, for the first time, sub-100nm semiconductor technology, according to IBM.
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John Kelly, senior vice-president and director of IBM Research, described the device as a breakthrough, paving the way to large-scale fabrication.
“This allows us to move silicon nanophotonics technology into a real-world manufacturing environment that will have impact across a range of applications,” he said.
The company originally developed a proof-of concept device in 2010.
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IBM has now industrialised the chip by adding silicon nanophotonics into a high-performance 90nm CMOS fabrication line. It claims its manufacturing process is able to integrate optical components like wavelength division multiplexers (WDM), modulators and detectors side-by-side with a CMOS electrical circuitry.
As a result, single-chip optical communications transceivers can be manufactured in a conventional semiconductor foundry, providing significant cost reduction over traditional approaches, according to IBM.
Big data analysis is one of the real-world applications of silicon nanophotonics. IBM said the technology could provide answers to big data challenges by seamlessly connecting various parts of large systems, whether a few centimetres or some kilometres apart, and move terabytes of data via pulses of light through optical fibres.