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TP-5: Silicon-based Photonic Integrated Circuits (PICs) or Chips

Silicon photonics is the technology platform in which photonic integrated circuits (PIC) are fabricated using the technology and processes available in a standard CMOS fab. By using the same base material (silicon) and the same fabrication infrastructure as the electronics industry, small (~ 1 cm^2) planar chips full of optical networks can be produced that manipulate photons rather than electrons. Si photonics is therefore strongly related to the world of electronics and many efforts are targeted at bringing together both optical and electronic functionalities in a single package.

Si photonics exploits the high resolution lithography toolset of the CMOS industry to fabricate PICs on a wafer scale with feature sizes down to the nano-scale. Due to these small feature sizes, a great variety of optical functionalities can be realized on a single chip. Moreover, the small dimensions allow for design of extreme performance (e.g. high resolution, low power consumption, fast switching speeds etc). Thanks to the wafer scale manufacturing process, the production can be scaled up quickly and reliably at a comparably lower cost.

Large scale manufacturing of Si-based PICs is already an industrial reality with major players such as Intel and Luxtera active in the datacomms market. In recent years, a complete supply chain has been developed that is accessible to both large- and small-scale companies. Apart from the actual fabrication, this includes professional design software, automated wafer-scale testing and standardization of the packaging. The barriers for entry into this high-tech optical platform are low by participating in a multi-project wafer (MPW) shuttle. These MPW shuttles are regularly organized by various organizations, such as ePIXfab and europractice and entice the fabrication of Si PICs that combine the optical designs of several users. This results in a significant cost-sharing effect. In addition, every designer in an MPW run can access instructive design kits with tested library components and statistical performance data.

The application space for Si photonics is very broad. Typical examples include data- and telecom receivers & transceivers and miniature sensors and biosensors. The latter can for example be applied in handheld devices for structural/environmental monitoring or point-of-care diagnostics.

The ACTPHAST Silicon photonics technology platform can assist companies at every stage in the development of Si-based PIC products. Imec is coordinating this effort with contributions by several ACTPHAST partners. The services that are offered range from feasibility studies, over modelling & design to fabrication, characterization and packaging. In addition, if you have special needs, post-processing of the Si PICs in a high-tech cleanroom is also possible. This includes the bonding of light sources, detectors and microfluidics to complete the chip functionality. In terms of packaging with optical fiber pigtails, both edge-coupling and vertical grating-based solutions are available. To verify if the Si PIC is up to spec, extensive characterization & metrology equipment is available. We can e.g. provide electro-optical measurement data at high frequencies up to 100 GHz and verify structural dimensions down to the nano-scale. In short, the extensive know-how and infrastructure of the ACTPHAST partners can support you to make the most out of Si PICs for your application.