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June 2013, Volume 2, Number 6

Understanding silicon photonics technology

Those humble chips running the servers in your data center are evolving, as optical components move onto the chip itself. Known as silicon photonics technology, this method involves the use of silicon semiconductors as the medium for optical signals, allowing much faster digital signaling than is currently possible with traditional electron-based semiconductor devices. Silicon photonics involves several core components. First, a laser is at the heart of any optical device. Current lasers use silicon and indium phosphide to produce coherent infrared laser light. Photons must then be modulated to break the light into optical pulses. Optical waveguides and other interconnections are necessary to move pulses from one place to another. And since a 100% optical system – i.e.  all optical chips with optical interconnections -- is probably still decades away, there must also be a means of converting electronic signals into optical signals and back again. Fortunately, every one of these optical components can be fabricated using the same...

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