'Lego-like' photonic chip to transform semiconductor industry

Thursday, 07 December, 2023

'Lego-like' photonic chip to transform semiconductor industry

Researchers at the University of Sydney Nano Institute have developed a compact silicon semiconductor chip that integrates electronics with photonic components. The technology expands radio-frequency (RF) bandwidth and the ability to control information flowing through the unit. Expanded bandwidth enables more information to flow through the chip and the inclusion of photonics allows for advanced filter controls, creating a versatile new semiconductor device.

The chip is expected to have applications in advanced radar, satellite systems, wireless networks and the rollout of 6G and 7G communications. It could also assist in the creation of high-tech value-added factories at places like Western Sydney’s Aerotropolis precinct.

The chip was built using an emerging technology in silicon photonics that enables the integration of diverse systems on semiconductors less than five millimetres wide. Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Ben Eggleton compared it to fitting together Lego building blocks, where new materials are integrated through advance packaging of components, using electronic ‘chiplets’. The research findings have been published in Nature Communications.

Dr Alvaro Cases Bedoya, who led the chip design, said the method of heterogeneous materials integration has been 10 years in the making, through the combined use of overseas semiconductor foundries to make the basic chip wafer, and local research infrastructure and manufacturing. “This architecture means Australia could develop its own sovereign chip manufacturing without exclusively relying on international foundries for the value-add process,” Bedoya said.

Designed in collaboration with scientists at the Australian National University, the integrated circuit was built at the Core Research Facility cleanroom at the University of Sydney Nanoscience Hub. The photonic circuit in the chip enabled the researchers to create a device with 15 gigahertz bandwidth of tuneable frequencies and a spectral resolution of just 37 megahertz, which is reportedly less than a quarter of 1% of the total bandwidth.

“Microwave photonic filters play a crucial role in modern communication and radar applications, offering the flexibility to precisely filter different frequencies, reducing electromagnetic interference and enhancing signal quality. Our innovative approach of integrating advanced functionalities into semiconductor chips, particularly the heterogeneous integration of chalcogenide glass with silicon, holds the potential to reshape the local semiconductor landscape,” Eggleton said.

Image credit: iStock.com/Bubbers13

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