In work that could lead to completely new devices, systems and applications in computing and telecommunications, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are bringing the long-sought goal of “optics on a chip” one step closer to market, according to a statement from MIT.
In the January 2007 inaugural issue of the journal Nature Photonics, the team reports a novel way to integrate photonic circuitry on a silicon chip. Adding the power and speed of light waves to traditional electronics, it says, could achieve system performance inconceivable by electronic means alone.
The MIT invention will enable such integrated devices to be mass-manufactured for the first time. And, depending on the growth of the telecom industry, the new devices could be in demand within five years, according to co-author Erich P. Ippen, the Elihu Thomson professor of electrical engineering and physics. The new technology may also enable supercomputers on a chip with unique high-speed capabilities for signal processing, spectroscopy and remote testing, among other fields.
The MIT researchers’ innovative solution involves splitting the light emanating from an optic fiber into two arms—one with horizontally polarized beams and one with vertical beams—in an integrated, on-chip fashion. Setting these two at right angles to one another, the researchers rotated the polarization of one of the arms, also in an integrated way. The beams from the two arms, now oriented the same way, then pass through identical sets of polarization-sensitive photonic structures and out the other side of the chip, where the two split beams are rejoined.
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