Oregon State University (OSU) researchers have created the world’s smallest electro-optic modulator.
What does this mean exactly? Well, these devices play an important role in fiber-optic networks. An electro-optic modulator acts as a switch for optical signals, similar to how a transistor acts as a switch for electronic signals. Optical communication uses light to carry information, so “the modulator turns on and off the light that sends a stream of binary signals over optical fibers,” according to OSU.
The new modulator equates to about 0.6 microns x 8 microns, the size of a bacterium. Currently 10 times smaller than existing technology, the modulator has the potential to boost energy efficiency by a factor of 100.
“This is by far the most exciting research I have ever done because of the impact the device will bring and because of the challenge it was for design and fabrication,” says Alan Wang, associate professor of electrical engineering in the OSU College of Engineering.
To create such a small device, the team took advantage of transparent conductive oxide materials. “The structure they invented uses a transparent conductive oxide gate instead of a typical metal gate to combine a metal-oxide semiconductor capacitor with an ultra-compact photonic crystal nanocavity,” according to OSU.
The design improved the electronic-photonic interactions, which led to the miniaturized invention. Due to its energy-saving potential, the modulator may find a home in data centers and supercomputers.
The paper, “Ultracompact Silicon-Conductive Oxide Nanocavity Modulator With 0.02 Lambda-Cubic Active Volume,” was published in the journal Nano Letters.