New advanced chip paving the way for an ultrafast tech future

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A research collaboration between Monash University, RMIT, and the University of Adelaide has developed a precise method of regulating optical circuits on fingernail-sized photonic integrated circuits.

The breakthrough, which was published in the journal Optica, builds on the work of the same team that built the world’s first self-calibrated photonic chip.

Photonics, or the use of light particles to store and transfer information, is a growing field that supports our demand for quicker, better, more efficient, and sustainable technology.

PICs (programmable photonic integrated circuits) provide different signal processing functions on a single chip and represent viable solutions for applications ranging from optical communications to artificial intelligence (AI).

Whether it’s downloading movies or keeping a satellite on the course, photonics is drastically transforming the way we live, revolutionising the processing capabilities of large-scale equipment onto a chip the size of a human fingernail.

Earlier this year, researchers at Monash University, RMIT and the University of Adelaide developed an advanced photonic circuit that could alter the speed and scale of photonics technology. However, as the volume and complexity of PIC’s grows, the characterisation, and thus calibration, of them becomes increasingly hard.

According to Monash research fellow Professor Mike Xu, the team have introduced a common reference path to the chip, which permits steady and precise measurements of the lengths and losses of the ‘workhouse’ paths.

“By investing a new method, the fractional delay method, we have been able to separate out the wanted information from the unwanted making for more precise application,” Professor Xu said.

Previously, chips were measured/calibrated by connecting to complex and expensive external equipment (called a vector network analyser); however, the connections introduce phase errors due to vibrations and temperature fluctuations. By placing the reference on the actual chip, the measurement is immune to phase errors.

“In our earlier work we used the “Kramers Kronig” method to remove unwanted errors from desired measurements, but the fractional method requires far less optical power for calibration for a given accuracy,” Monash University ARC Laureate Fellow from the Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering Professor Arthur Lowery said.

Professor Lowery stated that this implies they may obtain reliable measurements of the chip’s status and hence correctly program it for a desired purpose, such as pattern recognition in an optical computer or squeezing additional capacity from an optical communications network.

According to the team, the research builds on work that began in 2020 with the invention of a new optical microcomb chip capable of transferring 30 terabits per second, three times the record data for the whole National Broadband Network.

The team will investigate how photonic circuits might combine many wavelengths to accomplish rapid information processing and machine intelligence in the next stage of development, under the recently announced ARC Centre of Excellence for Optical Microcombs and Breakthrough Science (COMBS).

University of Adelaide Dr Andy Boes said: “The complexity of photonic integrated circuits is rapidly increasing, requiring a breakthrough to be able to calibrate and control them. The technique we developed overcomes this challenge, ensuring that the circuits can robustly be used for applications such as pattern recognition.”

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