£8.1m research centre set up to plug laser technology and photonics skills gap

A new centre is launched for training researchers to develop laser technology and integrate silicon photonics that will help in big data management and information processing as cloud and internet of things (IoT) enters mainstream

A new centre is launched for training researchers to develop laser technology and integrate silicon photonics that will help in big data management and information processing as cloud and internet of things (IoT) enters mainstream.

The University of Glasgow and Queen’s University of Belfast, along with 12 industry partners are creating the - Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Photonic Integration for Advanced Data Storage.

The centre will receive funding worth £8.1m, including £3m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the remainder from the institutions and industry partners involved, including the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland.

The aim of the centre is to address skills shortages in nanofabrication and photonic integration.

Photonic integration involves integrating many different types of optical components – such as lasers, modulators, detectors, multiplexers and optical amplifiers -- on a common platform.

Society’s ever-increasing demands for information and data storage will be the focus of the new centre where researchers will seek to develop innovative laser technology to take ‘cloud’ computing to the next level, according to Glasgow University.

The Centre will focus on developing highly-manufacturable photonic integration technologies related to the magnetic storage of digital information.

According to the university, such technology will be relevant to end-users across a wide range of industry segments such as telco and health sector.

The ability to store digital information has become a growing concern, as the memory capacity of even the smallest of devices, such as smartphones, has grown exponentially. At Datacentres Europe 2014 conference, experts spoke about how cloud computing and IoT is entering mainstream creating huge data-related challenges to traditional datacentres.

Silicon Photonics - the technology that uses optical fibre for data transfers - increases bandwidth in servers and racks, improves data transfer speeds and reduces datacentre complexity. Photonics is important because it has the ability of transferring data at 50Gps between two devices – that is transferring one full HD movie in less than a second.

Cloud computing is increasing the need for storage. In 2010, cloud accounted for 25% of storage use and by 2020 it is expected to account for more than 60%.

Data growth is also driven by the use of mobile systems – for example a server is needed for every 600 smartphones or 120 tablet computers.

 “There are two types of storage: traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) that provide high density at low cost, and solid state drives (SSDs) that offer less capacity at greater price but are more power efficient and are therefore used in mobile devices,” said  Professor John Marsh, head of the School of Engineering at the University of Glasgow.

While much of personal computing and related electronic devices are moving to SSD, there is still increasing need for HDD in personal usage in the form of back-up drives, personal TV systems and video recorders, he added.

“To address these capacity issues, new technology will be required – and that is likely to be heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), which uses electromagnetic energy to locally heat the disk to ease the process of writing data on to it,” Marsh said.

“It would allow recording densities to continue to increase at the same rate as happened over the past decade.”

HAMR will require the integration of photonic components such as lasers, waveguides and plasmonic antennas into the recording head.  The centre will focus on the integration where the key challenge for the researchers will be to make HAMR deployable as a low-cost technology, Marsh added.

The centre’s industry partners include Seagate Technology, IQE, Oclaro, CST Global, JEOL, Cirdan Imaging, and the Knowledge Transfer Network among others.

 

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