Silicon photonics gets boost from University of Washington OpSIS center

Feb. 8, 2011
Seattle, WA--The University of Washington announced the launch of a new program called OpSIS, co-funded by Intel, that aims to make it easier and cheaper to manufacture the next generation of silicon chips that combine light and electronics.

Seattle, WA--The University of Washington announced the launch of a new program, co-funded by Intel Corporation, that aims to make it dramatically easier and cheaper to manufacture silicon chips that combine light and electronics, enabling the next generation of computer chips. This program will provide access to high-end semiconductor manufacturing, enabling any researcher in the world to build integrated electronic-photonic circuits in silicon.

The new center aims to create for silicon photonics what Mead and colleague Lynn Conway did for silicon electronics in the 1970s. The "Mead and Conway Revolution" is widely credited with ushering in the current era of integrated circuit computing technology. Optoelectronics Systems Integration in Silicon, or OpSIS, will offer a service similar to the Metal Oxide Semiconductor Implementation Service, or MOSIS, an organization based at the University of Southern California that helped combine many different circuits, based on Mead and Conway’s design principles, onto a single silicon wafer.

"More than 15 years ago, we had a collaboration that allowed my group to design custom integrated circuits that would have been totally impossible for us to do from scratch," said O’Donnell, who then worked at the University of Michigan. "It’s now clear that silicon photonics is becoming an integral part of the electronics world, and so it’s critical to have that type of capability." The OpSIS project ( will permit "shuttle runs" in which researchers cut costs by sharing silicon wafers between multiple projects. A single circuit design might use only a few square millimeters. Enabling shuttle runs, Hochberg said, can reduce costs by more than 100 times.

Combining photonics and electronics promises to improve radar and sensing technology, and the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research funds Hochberg’s UW research. There are also a number of emerging applications for silicon photonics: In the future, Hochberg said, chips that combine electronics and photonics could allow for biological sensors that can test hundreds of blood samples on a single inexpensive chip that combines lasers, sensors and electronics.

In August, Hochberg and Tom Baehr-Jones, a UW research scientist in electrical engineering, published a Nature Photonics article calling for a foundry for silicon photonics. "With such an organization in place, we predict that designing and building photonic-electronic silicon chips will constitute a multibillion-dollar industry within the next ten years," they wrote. The OPSIS organization already has a half-dozen early users who are participating in so-called "risk runs" that test the protocols now under development.

SOURCE: University of Washington;

About the Author

Gail Overton | Senior Editor (2004-2020)

Gail has more than 30 years of engineering, marketing, product management, and editorial experience in the photonics and optical communications industry. Before joining the staff at Laser Focus World in 2004, she held many product management and product marketing roles in the fiber-optics industry, most notably at Hughes (El Segundo, CA), GTE Labs (Waltham, MA), Corning (Corning, NY), Photon Kinetics (Beaverton, OR), and Newport Corporation (Irvine, CA). During her marketing career, Gail published articles in WDM Solutions and Sensors magazine and traveled internationally to conduct product and sales training. Gail received her BS degree in physics, with an emphasis in optics, from San Diego State University in San Diego, CA in May 1986.

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