Navy awards SMI a phase I SBIR contract for electro-optic phase modulators

The Structured Materials Industries phase I award will enhance naval navigation systems.

Example of SMI-grown doped lithium niobate material using the MOCVD process. (Image credit: SMI)
Example of SMI-grown doped lithium niobate material using the MOCVD process. (Image credit: SMI)

IMAGE: Example of SMI-grown doped lithium niobate material using the MOCVD process. (Image credit: SMI)

Structured Materials Industries (SMI; Piscataway, NJ) was awarded a United States Navy Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to develop electro-optic phase modulators for enhancing naval navigation systems. SMI is partnered with Michigan Technological University (MTU; Houghton, MI) to advance electro-optic phase modulator technology through improving accuracy, energy consumption, and durability. In this six month project, SMI, along with MTU, will develop and fabricate select materials using MOCVD processes to grow phase modulator structures as well as demonstrate the operating material's performance benefits.

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The primary material of focus will be lithium niobate (LiNbO3). On selecting the material, principal investigator and SMI research scientist Nick M. Sbrockey said, "LiNbO3 has a high electro optical coefficient and outstanding transparency in the visible and near infrared; which makes it an optimal material for electro optics device development. LiNbO3 devices have been severely underutilized due to structural fabrication limitations that hinder technology innovation. We will advance LiNbO3 material structural properties in our Phase I effort with MTU by drawing upon our existing technology and utilizing in-house resources."

The Phase I effort will use one of the in-house MOCVD reactors at the SMI facility for growing oxide materials. This particular MOCVD reactor is capable of operating up to 900°C in oxidizing environments. The SMI staff is well experienced with MOCVD systems as well as LiNbO3 material. SMI has developed MOCVD processes for LiNbO3 films on a variety of substrates--such as LiNbO3 and Al2O3 (sapphire) in the past. LiNbO3 films have been grown through thicknesses of 3.0 microns. "The MOCVD process will allow for excellent control of film uniformity, composition, and dopant levels which will help make the modulators more accurate," added Sbrockey.

"SMI looks forward to collaborating with MTU to address the needs of the United States Navy for highly precise inertial navigation systems in theater applications such as ballistic missile submarines,” said Structured Materials Industries president and CEO Gary S. Tompa, adding, “We will build upon our previous successes to develop advanced electro optic thin film materials, and the process technology for their integration into components for Navy navigation systems."


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