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Intel Technology

Intel Researchers Build Laser on Chip 168

Victor Ramen writes "Working with the basic material of computer chips, Intel Corp. researchers have constructed an all-silicon laser that could lead to computers one day harnessing light waves rather than electrical currents to shuttle data swiftly. 'Once you have silicon as an optical material, then you can take advantage of this enormous (silicon) infrastructure that exists around the world,' said Mario Paniccia, director of Intel's photonics lab. 'You can imagine starting to siliconize photonic devices, and maybe integrate photonics and electronics.'"
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Intel Researchers Build Laser on Chip

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  • by Dancin_Santa ( 265275 ) <> on Friday January 07, 2005 @09:09AM (#11286534) Journal
    I'll siliconize your photonic devices, if you integrate my electronics
  • Whatever happened to getting these things on friggin shark foreheads? Priorities, people!
  • Does this mean that overclocking them won't make them explode?

    Instead, a precision hole will be burned through the casing from the cranked up laser.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Does this mean that overclocking them won't make them explode?
      No, it will just make your pc travel in time... Right after it's mass became infinitely large.
  • Friggen cpus with friggen laser beams in their friggen silicon
  • There is this wonderful field called 'integrated optics'..

    So this stuff is noting new.. Might be cool, but not news worthy at this point.

    Might want to read up on things before one posts something.. IEEE even has groups for this sort of thing.

    • by ted ( 2349 )
      Knew this sounded familiar.

      AT&T announced this 12 years ago... html []
    • by dsginter ( 104154 ) on Friday January 07, 2005 @09:47AM (#11286741)
      The difference is that, to do it with any kind of speed requires expensive materials like gallium arsenide. Intel is doing it with the standard silicon CMOS process which means that Joe Six Pack could afford a product with this technology.
    • by dr. loser ( 238229 ) on Friday January 07, 2005 @10:07AM (#11286860)
      You're wrong.

      Silicon is an indirect gap semiconductor []. That means that the traditional methods of making light emitting devices (e.g. LEDs, the diode lasers in CD players - these things are based on compound semiconductors like GaAs and InGaAs) don't work in Si.

      Previous integrated optics approaches have involved glomming III-V semiconductor lasers and photodetectors onto Si chips. This is unattractive from the engineering side for a number of reasons (cost, complexity, reliability).

      Intel has figured out a way to make a Si laser based on Raman emission. The downside is that the Intel scheme still requires an external optical pump. An ideal scheme for integration would be an electrically pumped Si laser. This work is a necessary step on that road.
      • you know i had to go to that site JUST because it had brittney spears in the address and damn it even had her picture with drawings around her firm succulent...wait stop where is my jacket when I need one..dammit and wearing khakis too
    • by Steve525 ( 236741 ) on Friday January 07, 2005 @10:32AM (#11287033)
      As others have pointed out, yes, integrated optics has existed for some time, but that doesn't mean that the field is so mature that important breakthroughs can't occur. The field of integrated optics includes lots of things - III-V devices, (GaAs and InP), silica and silicon devices, polymers, etc. The thing they all have in common is that the devices are fabricated monolithically on a substrate.

      You can generally break up the field into 2 catagories: materials that have great properties, but are a pain to process (GaAs, InP, LiNO3), and materials that are easy to process but aren't as great optically (Silica, silicon, polymers). Silicon is attractive because there is such a large amount of infrastructure available, and the hope is to be able to put CMOS and optics on the same chip. However, silicon has an indirect band-gap (this was sort of mentioned in the article by Because of silicon's crystalline makeup, energy from stimulated electrons is released as heat and vibration.). So, this means lasers can't be made by normal methods. In addition, modulators and detectors (for wavelengths longer than 1 um) are hard to do.

      The solution for making a laser done by Intel here (and done earlier by Jalali at UCLA and even earlier by Osgood at Colombia) uses Raman scattering. Unfortunately, what the article leaves out is that you need another laser to pump the silicon laser. In addition, this laser is not just an ordinary diode laser, because you need very short pulses to get the peak power necessary for a non-linear effect such as Raman scattering. (The same limitation also occurs with the all optical switch done by Lipson at Cornell and mentioned here on Slashdot a few months ago). So this may be useful for some applications, but it's not a solution to the general problem of creating a light source in silicon.
    • Well yeah, I can get a SMT laser diode overnighted to me, so the idea is nothing new.

      Where the real action is, is the possible connection with the Cell processor [], whos premise kindof relies on onboard gigabit+ . I think we all assumed gb/copper, but now...

      (Better start saving up for that PS? [] if this homeboy files!)
  • by MoobY ( 207480 ) <anthony @ l i e k e n s .net> on Friday January 07, 2005 @09:17AM (#11286577) Homepage
    They have put a laser light on a chip. Nothing else, nothing more fancy than that. No applications yet. It's just cool, that's it.
    • on chip without extra stuff. i'd figure that it's an quite important step in building optical computers.
      • The problem is you still need electricity to power the laser :)
        But it's a great step in the embedded devices industry. (what took a PCB takes a part of a chip.)
        • Would running a laser like this take more or less electricity than the conventional method of passing information? My guess is that it would take less. This alone could be a big deal for places that house large numbers of computers and servers.

          Power consumption was a major concern for me when I bought a new fridge. My electric bill (which uses the monthly average system) dropped over $30 per month with the new fridge. While a computer obviously doesn't use as much power as a fridge, the rising price
          • Rather not. Remember the information needs to be converted from/to electricity on both ends to be useful. There's still no nearly-100% way of retrieving energy from light. So, you take something like iButton, a 1-wire device, on the end of a wire. It works solemnly on power provided through the data line, so the bus master must pump some electricity (not much, in fact within CMOS levels) with the data "ones" into the line to power up the slaves (and "zeros" have strict timing limits). Similar device based
    • Yeah, I was thinking that.

      The link at the bottom of the main page has a lot more info, but it seems to be saying that they've developed a means of modulating signals at higher frequencies than has been possible before by using only silicon devices. They've stuck it all on one chip for signal generation and one chip for signal detection. If they can get it working in a high volume fab plant then they'll get faster input/output from their chips.

      Practical uses: faster bus/interconnects. If they can make it c
      • Is isn't clear from the way you worded it, but: This silicon modulator is dramatically (50x) faster than any previous silicon modulator. It isn't yet as fast as other non-silicon solutions, but it is far cheaper. So much cheaper that is changes what can be done with fiber instead of wire.
    • by Vo0k ( 760020 ) on Friday January 07, 2005 @09:37AM (#11286684) Journal
      Just like wheel. It rolls, it's round and does nothing. Completely useless invention.

      Uses I can imagine already:
      -superminiaturized CD-ROM drives (laser+sensor+decoding circuitry all in one chip). Also lasers implemented everywhere where they were considered too bulky (nanobots anyone?)
      -single-chip fibre optic modems.
      -prices of all laser devices dropping rapidly (you can implement the laser on your chip as one of 1000 other parts for $0.003 each resulting in $3 chip, instead of a $3 chip, $2 laser diode and $1 circuitry to connect them)
      -laser based projectors where 1 pixel=1 laser (no sweeping beam=vastly increased brightnes plus solid state, no moving parts)

      • I highly doubt the laser is the biggest part of a CD-ROM drive. The motors, guide system, & opticle pickup each take up more space. (At least on the devices I bothered to take apart)

        • Yes. All these bulky mechanical parts because there's only one expensive laser and it must sweep whole surface of the large disk...

          Replace movement in one axis (rotary/radial) with an array of lasers, you have just removed one engine. With lasers cheap enough you can afford covering the whole CD surface and using micromovements i.e. by solid state piezzo activators to have the whole surface read.

          Plus with the sensors and lasers cheap enough, by including a lot of them in a single drive you can multiply th
          • Can I say holographic DVD? Take 2 laser beams reflected off piezo cantilevers and you can focus on the disc's thickness dimension, a 3rd laser beam to read the interference pattern.
            How many layers can be stacked, 10, 20?

            That's way better than the DL reflective technique in use today and sounds a lot like DLP available technology doesn't it? Question: are we able to control umirror angle with enough precision or is it two state?

            You can throw a whole radial array of pickups and get rid of a motor, but that
          • If the lasers were cheap enough, why not remove all movement - get rid of the spinning disk, and just have an insertable card read by a matrix of lasers. Inevitable, I think. Moving parts must go...
      • Then again, this new LSD will probably be very nasty when it produces that very clear and bright image on your screen - in that you can't see it after 10 minutes of working.

        But laser holograms would be possible - allowing a clear "Leia" like projection with high-resolution 'static' lasers, instead of high speed scanning lasers.
        • Note "your average" laser can damage your sight. But you can run a laser as weak as you desire, shine it at the bottom of your eye and just see a harmless dot. With the extra profit of saving power.
      • It still requires an optical pump, doesn't it? Instead of $3 chip, $2 laser, $1 circuitry, you get $3 chip, $2 pump, $1 circuitry to connect them. So all the things you want to do can't be done yet except, perhaps, the last one.

        However, the last one is probably a bad idea except for where this is already implemented (for VERY large video projections). What if someone accidentally looks into the projector?

        Of course, someone could correct me here. Is there a way to make an optical pump out of only Silic
        • However, the last one is probably a bad idea except for where this is already implemented (for VERY large video projections). What if someone accidentally looks into the projector?

          Just because it's a laser doesn't mean it'll burn your eye out. There are lasers that will do that but your average red laserpointer won't. It's about the energy transfered to your eye cells.

          Look into a military searchlight sometime, you'll see.

          IIRC, projector bulbs are about 5% efficient, so this should lead to cheaper, smal
      • Yes, yes. <rubbing hands> Nanobots with frickin' lasers on their heads.
      • a bionic implant of said chip onto a sharks forhead.
    • Well, there ARE applications.
      There has been much research about using waveguides instead of copper to connect chips, but the limiter was always the problems with external lasers.
      Just putting them on die allows for quite some progress in that area.

      Of course i would be really interested how they did it (with SI having an indirect bandgap and all)
    • One more application is in the BioMed area, with the laser source used for Medical Imaging onchip, as in Laser Speckle Imaging.
    • you know what it is still in the development stage but you know what makes this cool is that there is then no stop to what this CPU could do it could go extreamly fast. much faster then the ones we have out there right now. that is what makes this cool
  • Heat issues? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by skyshock21 ( 764958 ) on Friday January 07, 2005 @09:17AM (#11286579)
    Could this eliminate or at least reduce the need for massive heat sinks?
    • Currently one of major problems with lasers of any reasonable power is they require massive heat sinks. So, no.
      Still waiting till liquid nitrogen pipes and connectors get integrated into motherboards and chips...
    • Theoretically, maybe; firing excess heat in the form of a laser is probably possible. In practice, this sort of laser doesn't get us any closer.
  • by imag0 ( 605684 ) on Friday January 07, 2005 @09:17AM (#11286580) Homepage
  • by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Friday January 07, 2005 @09:18AM (#11286588) Homepage

    User has reported that under high load the laptop gave him an unwanted castration. The wound was fully cauterised and the user now has an increased life expectancy.

    We informed the user that the warning document is quite clear on page 98 paragraph 20, line 4 that a laptop should not be put on top of a lap but they chose to ignore this. I informed the user we would not be charging for the medical procedure our processor undertook, as a measure of our esteem for a valued customer. The user however is still demanding further action.

    Recommendation: Send him a mouse mat.

  • Can it be aimed at an airliner?


    • You could build hordes of nanobots with this invention and put a swarm in the flightpath of a landing airplane. Sure, most would be destroyed by the plane, the sucktion of the engines and the turbulence, but maybe one of them might hit a pilots eye with its tiny laser beam, the pilot might blink and crash his plane, threatening the USA and - of course - the whole world. This is a much more threatening situation than some terrorists taking flying lessons bang in the middle of the USA.
    • Can it be aimed at an airliner?

      Osama, is that you?

    • if boeing used these processors somewhere in the cockpit, would that make them a terrorist organization?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 07, 2005 @09:26AM (#11286631)
    In a fiber application you always have things like routers where the optical signal has to be converted to an electric signal, processed and then converted back to an optical signal. Designing the pcb to handle the high speed signals involved is non-trivial. If you get around the problem of having high speed signals on a pcb by keeping everything on the chip, things are much simpler. This should make things like routers and telephone switches cheaper and faster. In fact, I can see optical fiber being used on boards for chip interconnection. We might see boards with copper layers and an optical layer. In fact, the optical layer could be incorporated into the dielectric. I'm excited!

    • The parallel (conductive) bus structures on silicon wafers will have to be addressed also. Per the "integrated optics" (IO)comment earlier, closely spaced optical "channels" have a nasty habit of evanescent-field-coupling from one to another (it is amazingly counterintuitive), so opague blocks will have to be put between them. (I always knew my grad-studies on IO would come in handy some day). They have a ways to go yet -unless they want to run the optical busses serially..?
      • You put channels in quotes so I'm not exactly sure of your meaning. Is the field-coupling effect from parallel channels of the same wavelength? Or did you mean "channels" as in each wavelength used is a different channel? Also, does anyone know if this technology can only produce a single wavelength or can the wavelength can be varied?
      • You mean light leaking from one fiber into the other? Shure, but given the bandwidth capacity of an optical system they needn't be as closely spaced as today's bus tracks. They might chatter next to or on chip but just reduce spacial density of optical I/O and let attenuation do it's job (or put a nice phat Vcc pad in between).
      • The high index contrast of silicon (n=3.4) vs. its cladding (usually oxide - n=1.45) means that the evanescent field drops off pretty rapidly. A spacing of about 5 um is sufficient to eliminate crosstalk.
    • I like the concept of integrating an optical layer through the dielectric, but I don't know if that would work. The photons in the laser may interact with the silicon outside of the dielectric and produce a photo-electric effect.
  • 'Once you have silicon as an optical material, then you can take advantage of this enormous (silicon) infrastructure that exists around the world,'

    Pamella Anderson should be very pleased. As am I; I often think of her enormous silicon infrastructure...
  • photonics with electronics, now that's what i called innovation. unfortunately the area was introduced some 30 years ago. so what's the deal, bill?
  • Fascinating stuff: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 07, 2005 @09:34AM (#11286665)
    To grasp the significance of this, think of the difference between electrical and electronic devices.

    Current photonic devices are at the same technological level as electric devices were before the invention of the integrated circuit and the "electronic" revolution occured.

    If we're about to see an analog of the "electronic" revolution, but this time using photons instead of electrons, it's going to be absolutely amazing - and its effect will be as unpredictable as the effects of the electronic revolution (computers, the internet, and other radical consequences of the information age) were.

    Fascinating times ahead.
  • Yum! (Score:1, Funny)

    by fisheye1969 ( 842355 )
    Low calorie food! Chips-lite (light)! Hey, c'mon, I spent seconds thinking that one up!
    • Re:Yum! (Score:2, Funny)

      by ChrisMaple ( 607946 )
      Absolutely correct. The lasers use the Raman effect, so General Mills can manufacture them on their noodle production line.
  • VHDL? (Score:1, Troll)

    by Vo0k ( 760020 )
    Could they release that laser-on-chip device as a VHDL macro so I could implement it in my FPGA projects? I bet no, they would lose all the profit if people pirated the file and everyone could create one from readily availavle FPGA...
    • This isn't just a circuit or piece of logic. This involves special process steps to treat the silicon so that its bandgap properties are altered. I'm sure that they have some sort of logic to show that the device has functionality, though.
  • by oxbow lake ( 104590 ) on Friday January 07, 2005 @09:49AM (#11286748)
    here []
  • I thought the phrase "siliconize photonics" was familiar...

    (Feb.04) Intel Devises Chip Speed Breakthrough []
    (Oct.04) Optical Control of Light on a Silicon Chip []
  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Friday January 07, 2005 @09:56AM (#11286785) Homepage
    Is there really any speed difference between sending a laser over a bus and sending and electrical signal down a wire. Doesn't electricity travel at c (the speed of light). I know that's just thoery and that in reality, it travels at less than c, but so does light going to any substance other than a vacuum. The other thing. Wires can be made really small, and still carry a current. Can we expect to fibre optic cables down to the same size?
    • by TheGavster ( 774657 ) on Friday January 07, 2005 @10:13AM (#11286906) Homepage
      You can change the intensity of light on a fiber much faster than you can change the charge of a wire. Propogation speeds are slightly faster with light, but the big key is being able to change high/low state very fast.
      • Here's a question. How does one change the intensity of the light. Isn't it done by changing the voltage? or something similar. And this still doesn't answer my question of size. For networks and other long distance applications, light makes sense. On the other hand, if you're light based cpu takes up 10x as much space as your copper based cpu, then who is ever going to buy one. You can also bend a wire at any angle and have the electricity travel through it. I don't know if the same holds for fibre
        • I think the immediate usefulness of this in regards to a cpu would be the IO. I think the chip core would still be traditional, but instead of having 1000 pins or whatever, you could change buses to be serial and reduce the pin count considerably.

          The speed of electricity varies with voltage and current, but I think the generally accepted value is 1/3*c. So there would be first order speed gains.

          But there is also bandwidth too, much more information can be encoded and sent over fiber than can be sent ov
      • I wonder if this will make trinary or quarternary signalling practical. That would help data throughput quite a bit.
    • Wires can be made really small, and still carry a current. Can we expect to fibre optic cables down to the same size?

      I believe optical fibre is currently available with typical diameters of the order of 100 micrometers, which is a lot larger than the features on an IC, but is comparable to the size of tracks on a PCB.
    • You're right, the actual speed at which the information travels around is not much different. If I remember well, voltage goes at (2/3)c in a coaxial cable. It's probably different in silicon, but in the similar range. Secondly, did you ever see a fibre optic cable? They can be made invisible to the eye already. I do not think size is a real limitation here. The cost of laying down the fibre is probably more than the cost of the fibre.
    • There are a lot of comments about heat and signal propogation across copper, but another consideration is crosstalk.

      From what I've read, you have to plan carefully when laying out circuit boards to get the traces all the same length, and avoid crosstalk. High speed serialized optical interfaces do away with all those problems. Board design becomes dramatically simplified (potentially).

      IANAEE (I Am Not An Electrical Engineer)
  • Aren't laser LED's (as used in those $5 laser pointers) made of silicon?
    • No. Usually GaAs (gallium arsenide).
    • No, they're typically made with other processes. One such method is with compound semiconductors using III-V materials like Gallium Arsenide. "III-V" refers to the general group of materials used on the periodic table - the materials are usually from those two groups. There are other methods of making lasers too, and I'm sure google can help you find information if you're intersted.

      The big thing is that the processes are different from that which makes Silicon semiconductions, meaning that indutries that a
  • by lgreco ( 618568 ) on Friday January 07, 2005 @10:09AM (#11286882) Homepage
    Many fellow /.ers seem to wonder why this is newsworthy since integrated photonics is not something new. That's true. But the introduction of solid-state silicon-based lasers is nothing short of revolutionary.

    The discussion and research, thus far, on integrated electronics has hit a road block. Electronics is a silicon-based techology; photonics, for the most (and better part) is not. Specifically, photonic devices, and in particular laser emitters, are made out of a group of materials known as III-V (called three-five) materials, in reference to their position in the corresponding tables of the periodic table (consider, for example, gallium-arsenide GaAs).

    Silicon is not a III-V material. It belongs to column II of the periodic table (notice that columnnar position refers to atomic properties and not to the actual column of the table. For example, column III in the periodic table is spread over actual columns number 3 and 13).

    The fact that silicon and III-V materials do not share common chemical and crystalline properties, as implied by their different positions on the periodic table, is detrimental. The mismatch in their crystalline structure makes the monolithic integration of tiny laser emitters on top of silicon chips, impossible.

    Yet we all agree that optical interconnections between computer components are the key for electronic computers to become better and faster.

    Since monolithinc integration of lasers and CPUs was impossible, till now, because of the materials' mismatch we had to resort to the following limited ways of engaging photonics in computing:

    (a) use of photonics for long-haul data transfer, ie, optical interconnects between entire computers, aka, optical networks; they are great and fast but we still face the bottlenect at the points of conversion between optical and electronic signals.

    (b) hybrid optoelectronic chips; consider a silicon chip with pads on which a GaAs photonic chip rests. The two chips exchange signals thru these pads. The drawback here is the rather poor yields in fabrication and the high cost due to limited demand (and applications) for such devices.

    (c) all optical computers. This was sort of a chimera for many researchers (myself included). While the idea and the concept are promising the implementation is extremely difficult and the promise of quantum computers, now, makes optical data processing a thing of the past.

    Ideally we want a CPU chip made of silicon capable of emitting and receiving light. The photonic component was very difficult on silicon. Silicon is not an ideal material for coherent light emision, neither does it detect light easily. You need a larger area to sense light on silicon, than on GaAs, making silicon photodetectors rather large and thus affecting the scale of integration.

    What Intel appears to have done now, is to introduce a way to monolithically integrate laser sources on silicon chips. They have solved a problem that has been open for years. Their solution will catalyze a field that has been waiting years for such a breakthrough. We knew what to do but we did not have the technology to do it. Intel just gave us the technology we've been expecting.
  • II for one, welcome our new silicon laser overlords...

  • Lord knows the residual beams will hit a plane and I'll get 25 years for changing my graphics card.

    My best sig is this one.
  • have Intel stuck out a press release to hide the fact that AMD now 0wn the 64-bit market and Windows XP for Itanium has just been dropped by Microsoft?

    "Quick, lab guys, we need some good news!"

    "What about lasers? Lasers are futuristic and cool, aren't they?"

  • "Turion" sounds very, very similar to the way "Durian" is pronounced in several southeast asian languages.

    A Durian, is a large, porcipine-like fruit that when ripe and cut open, smells and tastes like a mix of a sulphur factory (or rotten garlic or onions) and a lush, creamy custard. The smell is so pungent that you can smell it from a hundred feet away. Many people are so put off by the smell that in public areas like airports and hotel lobbies they have signs that say "No Durians"

"Yeah, but you're taking the universe out of context."