New Electro-Optic Modulators Could Be Key to More Efficient Fiber Networks

Achievement date: 
2013
Outcome/accomplishment: 

New modulators that can more efficiently translate an electrical signal into an optical signal were developed by researchers at the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) with headquarters at the University of Arizona. The CIAN team worked with Intel Corp. to develop polymer modulators based on silicon with novel cladding materials that feature an exceptional range of properties.

Impact/benefits: 

The development of more efficient, low-voltage, modulators can help networks meet the continuing explosive growth of the internet, wireless communication, and digital storage demands. Such modulators are key “missing pieces” in the silicon photonics toolkit, since current modulators in silicon suffer from both high power consumption and high optical loss.

Explanation/Background: 

The fundamental operation of translating an electrical input signal to the optical domain can be done by directly modulating the laser transmitter or, increasingly, by using an external modulator that acts like an ultrafast shutter that can be turned on and off in fractions of a nanosecond. CIAN researchers working in partnership with Intel are developing electro-optical (EO) polymer modulators based on silicon and enabled by the development of cladding materials made through a sol-gel process, in which a solution moves from a liquid “sol” to a solid “gel.”

EO polymers have undergone extensive development over the last decade and are now moving forward into telecommunications applications.