New Plasmonic Chips can Convert Electronic Signals to Ultrafast Light Signals for Faster Communication

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ByRajni Setia 0

Plasmonic Chips for Ultrafast Data Transmission

Researchers from ETH Zurich have come up with an ul­tra­fast chip to be used for converting fast electronic signals directly into ultrafast light signals with no loss of signal quality. This is the first time ever that the elec­tronic and light-based ele­ments have been combined on the same chip. The ex­per­i­ment was per­formed in col­lab­or­a­tion with part­ners in Ger­many, US, Is­rael, and Greece. This is the stepping stone in technical terms as currently, these elements have to be manufactured on separate chips and then connected up with wires.

When elec­tronic sig­nals are converted into light sig­nals us­ing sep­ar­ate chips, the amount of sig­nal qual­ity lessens down and the speed of data trans­mis­sion us­ing light too gets hampered. However, this is not the case with the new plasmonic chip that comes with a mod­u­lator, a com­pon­ent on the chip that gen­er­ates light of a given in­tens­ity by con­vert­ing the elec­trical sig­nals into light waves. The small size of the mod­u­lator ensures there is no loss of qual­ity and in­tens­ity in the con­ver­sion pro­cess, and light, rather the data is transmitted speedily. The combination of electronics and plasmonics on a single chip makes amplification of light signals possible and ensures faster data transmission.

The electronic and photonic components are placed tightly on top of one another, like two layers, and are directly placed on the chip using “on-chip vias” to make it as compact as possible. This layering of the electronics and photonics shortens transmission paths and reduces losses in terms of signal quality. This approach is aptly called “monolithic co-​integration” as the electronics and photonics are implemented on one single substrate. The photonic layer on the chip con­tains a plas­monic in­tens­ity mod­u­lator that helps in converting electrical signals into even faster optical ones because of the metal struc­tures that chan­nel the light to reach higher speeds.

The four lower-​speed in­put sig­nals are bundled and amp­li­fied to form a high-​speed elec­trical sig­nal which is then con­ver­ted into a high-​speed op­tical sig­nal. This process is known as “4:1 mul­ti­plex­ing” which for the first time has made the transmission of data on a monolithic chip at a speed of over 100 gigabits per second possible. The high speed was achieved by combining plas­mon­ics with clas­sical CMOS elec­tron­ics and even faster BiC­MOS tech­no­logy. Besides, new temperature-​stable, electro-optical ma­ter­ial from the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton and in­sights from the Ho­ri­zon 2020 pro­jects PLAS­MO­fab and plaC­MOS were also used. The researchers are convinced that this ul­tra­fast chip will fast pave the way for speedy data transmission in optical communication networks of the future.

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