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IBM takes optical chip breakthrough to standard manufacturing

Big Blue says its silicon nanophotonics technology could have big data implications now that it can be used in standard semiconductor manufacturing processes.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

IBM on Monday will outline how an optical communications advance is now possible with standard 90-nanometer semiconductor manufacturing processes. The upshot is that these advances will allow light to transmit information and speed up data transfer.

The technology is dubbed silicon nanophotonics and was outlined in a 2010 proof of concept paper. Silicon nanophotonics uses pulses of light to communicate and moves large data volumes rapidly.

Here's an angled view of the IBM silicon nanophotonics chip. The blue optical waveguides are transmitting high-speed optical signals. Yellow copper wires carry electrical signals. Credit: IBM

IBM contends that the technology will ultimately be used in servers, datacenters and supercomputers and trump current interconnects. It's unclear when the technology would be adopted, but the ability to use traditional silicon manufacturing processes is a big plus.

In a release, IBM positioned the breakthrough as one that could bolster big data use cases. Big Blue said that it transferred its silicon nanophotonic technology to a commercial foundry by adding new processing modules to fabrication line.

According to a paper to be presented by at Dr. Solomon Assefa at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM):

The first sub-100nm technology that allows the monolithic integration of optical modulators and germanium photodetectors as features into a current 90nm base high-performance logic technology node is demonstrated. The resulting 90nm CMOS-integrated Nano-Photonics technology node is optimized for analog functionality to yield power efficient single-die multichannel wavelength-mulitplexed 25Gbps transceivers.

A cross-sectional view of an IBM silicon nanophotonics chip combining optical and electrical circuits.
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