Stretching for thousands of miles beneath oceans, optical fibers now connect every continent except for Antarctica. With less data loss and higher bandwidth, optical-fiber technology allows information to zip around the world, bringing pictures, video, and other data from every corner of the globe to your computer in a split second. But although optical fibers are increasingly replacing copper wires, carrying information via photons instead of electrons, today’s computer technology still relies on electronic chips.

Right now, as you’re reading this, all kinds of electronic processes are running in your computer to make sure the information you desire is showing up on your monitor. What you might not know is that electricity isn’t the most efficient means of relaying this information, but it’s all we have until now. You can send your thank-you letters to MIT, who has made huge strides towards the development of photonic chips.


APIC Corporation, in collaboration with MIT and Stanford University, has successfully created a germanium laser, potentially opening the door to the photonic chip – a microprocessor that uses photons instead electrons, theoretically increasing computing performance exponentially, while dropping power consumption and cooling requirements.

The team succeeded in making germanium produce a laser when electrically pumped. Using this technology, called FLIP (Fully Laser Integrated Photonics), they hope to develop photonic microprocessors, doping germanium in silicon wafer. Photons from the induced germanium laser could then be travel along nano-sized waveguides, in much the same way as electrons travel in current day copper processor circuits.

With photonic microprocessors, computing power would increase dramatically, with light speed communication, enabling a much higher-order of parallel processing and sheer operations per second. Cooling and power consumption requirements would also be reduced drastically, with photons requiring less power to propel, and, travelling along waveguides without generating heat. When compared to electrons facing electrical resistance in circuits of conventional microprocessors, negligible energy will be required to cool the photonic processor, and heat-based complexity limitations would be a thing of the past.

We are talking about a new technology called Fully Laser Integrated Photonics (FLIP) which will replace conventional electronics in a whole lot of computing and cut down computing’s ever-rising demand for power (Google today already accounts for 1% of US power consumption) by an order of magnitude.

FLIP has been enabled by a breakthrough in the science of materials just announced in the US: Indian American scientist and entrepreneur Dr Birendra (Raj) Dutt along with a top team of researchers at his own company APIC Corporation, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University has discovered how to make germanium produce a laser when charged with electricity. This would eventually allow a new breed of microchips to be built on a commercial scale in which pulses of light, called photons, zip at top speed along nano-sized waveguides of the self-same germanium etched into silicon, instead of electrons whizzing around in copper circuits on silicon as in today’s chips.

When electrons move through a conductor, they produce heat, which then has to be removed using additional energy. Photons, on the other hand, do not produce heat as they move through their waveguides at the speed of light, hence no energy is required to cool photonic chips. Further, use of doped germanium together with the straining of this material when grown on silicon produces a laser that makes mass commercial production of photonic chips possible.

Germanium belongs to the same group of elements as silicon, making full integration of laser chips possible. While use of photons in chips is not new, till the present discovery of making germanium ‘lase’, it had not been possible to have integrated photon chips. Dr Dutt, an IIT-Kharagpur, aeronautical engineering alumnus of the class of 1971, founded APIC Corporation in 1999 for research, development and production of highly integrated photonic and electronic technology. Today his company has forged strategic relationships with a large number of universities and institutions in the US. It has a wholly-owned fabrication facility in Honolulu. The breakthrough research, which was achieved under a US government contract, was sponsored by the Naval Air Systems Command, Aircraft Division,(NAVAIR) and the National Security Agency (NSA) and funded by the US department of defence.

     He is Dr. Birendra Raj Dutt showing the designed photonic chip.

Courtesy: wiki, techbook, meganews

Posted By

Gopi Chand(MGIT ECE 4th year)