Brown-led center receives grant to create lightwave superchip

November 02, 2000

A seven-university team led by Brown University has been named one of six new national centers for long-term research toward making computers work with the aid of light.

The universities in the Optoelectronic Center for Innovative Photonic Chipscale Technologies have been awarded a $5.6-million grant over four years by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The consortium includes researchers at Brown, Columbia, George Mason and Princeton universities, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the universities of Delaware and Maryland.

Researchers in the consortium, led by director Arto Nurmikko, hope to add light waves to the microchips used in personal computers, eventually creating a superchip that could replace the electronic microchip. The creation of a superchip would enable faster personal computers and connections to the Internet, for example.

Nurmikko and Jimmy Xu, both professors of engineering and physics, are the two Brown members.

The scientists seek to apply a basic tenet of physics - that light can be manipulated faster than electricity.

Nurmikko and colleagues will be trying to find an equivalent to a transistor. In this case, they hope to create a tiny laser and associated lightwave circuitry that could be turned on very fast to stop a beam of light from passing, and turned off to open the path for a beam of light to travel. The circuitry would be at microscale size, comparable to a fraction of the diameter of a human hair.

In effect, researchers would be trying to create a tiny, super high-speed railroad switchyard for lightwave circuits.

"This is both the future and futuristic - you never know with these types of technologies where you will end up," Nurmikko said.

The project will include collaborations with industry to guide the research, Nurmikko said. Eleven industrial affiliates including Agilent Technologies and Corning are participating in the project.

"Industry welcomes this kind of government investment in academia," Nurmikko said, because institutions of higher education are better geared to conducting long-term research.

Brown University

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