Exploring the Next Wave of Optical Communications


Associate Professor Luca Dal Negro (ECE)
Associate Professor Luca Dal Negro (ECE)

Improving how computer chips communicate with each other could potentially result in smaller, faster and more power efficient devices.

To reach that point, some researchers are studying on-chip optical communications, which rely on the ability to transmit light at high frequencies using light emitters and lasers. Unfortunately, the primary materials used in on-chip lasers tend to be expensive and difficult to integrate with silicon-based microelectronics circuitry.

Many electrical engineers believe that if light were more efficiently generated using a silicon-compatible material, costs of bandwidth could decline and optoelectronic devices could be massively produced at low cost. The problem, however, is that standard silicon materials do not efficiently generate light.

Boston University Associate Professor Luca Dal Negro (ECE), who has conducted much of his research on optical physics and semiconductor nanostructures, recently received a grant that could make silicon-based light sources a real possibility.

“What we’re hoping to do is create novel light sources that leverage distinctive optical resonances, known as gap plasmons,” said Dal Negro. “This would strongly confine electromagnetic fields at the nanoscale on a less expensive silicon platform.”

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research recently awarded Dal Negro $379,989 for his project, “Nanoscale Optical Emitters for High Density Information Processing Using Photonic-Plasmonic Coupling in Coaxial Nanopillars.”

According to his proposal, Dal Negro plans to design and engineer nanoscale-size optical cavities using silicon-compatible electronic materials to demonstrate “dramatically enhanced radiation rates, drastically reduced [size], and room temperature efficient light emitting arrays and laser structures.”

Dal Negro will receive the funding over a two-year period that began in early January.

-Rachel Harrington (rachelah@bu.edu)