Sunday, January 17, 2010

Advances in Miniature Photonics

The common man is not really familiar with scientific terms unless it applies to gadgets and applications that are in regular usage as part of their daily lives. So when the word photonics crops up in a conversation, you could be forgiven for displaying a blank expression on your face. To those in the dark, photonics in its simplest explanation is the field that uses light instead of electronics in applications relevant to telecommunication, information processing, display technology and others. If you’re still clueless, the term fiber optics should ring a bell – after all, it has revolutionized the way we communicate and share information today.

Today, the world of photonics has grown and advanced by leaps and bounds, and we are familiar with its uses (even if we don’t know that it is photonics being applied) – we undergo laser surgery routinely without questioning the scientific principle behind its efficiency and accuracy, to give you just one example. A recent innovation in this field may be miniature in nature, but when you consider the progress that has been made to reach this stage, the achievement is stupendous.

Researchers at the Ghent University have reduced the size of the world, almost literally, as part of a project for the institution’s Photonics Research Group. They’ve succeeded in scaling down the map of the globe one trillion, with 25,000 miles being reduced to 40 micrometers which is half the width of a normal human hair. The map finds place on an optical silicon chip which is being tested for potential applications in telecommunications, high speed computing, biotechnology and healthcare.

The project is part of ongoing research in silicon photonics technology which integrates optical circuits onto small chips which are then manipulated on a minute scale (micrometer and lower) in tiny strips of silicon that are called photonic wires. This particular chip with the world map was used to showcase photonic wires with the least number of propagation losses. The map was etched using 200 mm processing and its smallest features are as tiny as 100 nanometers.

The achievement is even more significant when we take into consideration the fact that silicon photonic circuits can hold a million times more components than glass photonic chips which we use currently in various applications. So the potential for smaller gizmos that are infinitely more powerful than their predecessors is improved with this advance in photonics.

This guest post is contributed by Shannon Wills, she writes on the topic of Online Engineering Degrees . She welcomes your comments at her email id:

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