IBM industrialises silicon and optical nanotechnology for big data

IBM has invented a chip that combines photonics and silicon on a single 90nm die capable of transferring data at 25Gbps.

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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.

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. 

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.





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