John Bowers, Acting Executive Director
Integrated Photonics (IP), or the use of light for applications traditionally addressed through electronics, can revolutionize several fields, including telecommunications, laser-based radar, data communications, sensing, among others. To elucidate, conventional integrated circuits (ICs) conduct electricity through the circuit by allowing electron flow. These negatively charged subatomic particles limit the amount of information that can be transmitted while generating heat and causing information losses. Unlike this, photonic integrated circuits (PICs) leverage photons that move at the speed of light. This plays a vital role in increasing the bandwidth or data transfer rate and making PICs more efficient than their traditional counterparts. No wonder, the global IP market has been estimated to surpass $795 billion by 2022. Needless to say, by developing a widely accepted set of processes and protocols for the design, manufacture, and integration of photonics systems, the U.S. can not only advance this technology but enjoy tremendous economic growth.
Enter The American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics)—an industry-driven publicprivate partnership whose goal is to emulate the dramatic successes experienced by the electronics industry over the past 40 years and transition key lessons, processes, and approaches to the PIC industry.
One of the primary objectives of this manufacturing institute is to educate PIC-centered workforce for allowing small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) to seamlessly conduct PIC research, development, and commercialization. “It has always been our mission to create an education system that matches technological trends. That’s why we invest heavily in new technologies, fabrication facilities, and packaging facilities. We believe that without skilled workforce, it is impossible to rightly use those facilities and create a full ecosystem that can help the U.S. thrive in this sector,” says John Bowers, Acting Executive Director, AIM Photonics.
Therefore, with in-depth integrated photonics-focused programs, AIM Photonics creates an adaptive PIC workforce capable of meeting industry needs, ultimately increasing domestic competitiveness. “Our AIM Academy spent significant energy developing the right curriculum that can train students and current workforce for the next generation of faster and more power-efficient chips and in other areas of advanced manufacturing,” says Lionel Kimerling, Education and Workforce Training Executive of AIM Photonics. Further, AIM Photonics has also partnered with MIT to fill the void of a skilled workforce in the PIC arena. By using AIM and MIT facilities, they ensure a higher level of education and technicianlevel experience.
AIM Photonics also collaborates with various software vendors, such as Synopsys and Cadence and design companies like Analog photonics to integrate the latest models for photonic circuits with their electronic software and design capabilities. It has developed integrated photonic Process Design Kits (PDK), and Multi-Project Wafer (MPW) runs in partnership with Analog Photonics and SUNY Poly to provide designers with cost-effective and quick turn design to fabrication solutions. It eliminates the need to design PICs from scratch and helps SMEs to efficiently develop a final product. AIM Photonics offers different options for wafer fabrication services at the 300mm semiconductor processing, research and fabrication facility located at the Albany Nanotech Complex. In addition, the MPW platform enables clients to choose from active PIC and passive PIC technologies and four chip sizes based on their budgets. “A dedicated run can cost half a million dollars, which is huge for universities and small companies. However, when several groups are bundled together, the cost per user reduces dramatically,” says Michael Watts, CTO, AIM Photonics. After fabrication, the next challenge for clients is packaging, as its cost might go ten times higher than wafer fabrication. AIM Photonics’ TAP facility based in Rochester, NY covers the testing and packaging aspects. “We run the full sequence for PIC from start to finish, offering better accuracy, performance, and design,” says Bowers.
AIM Photonics’ PDK library has over 80 input components, such as fiber chip couplers, polarization splitters and rotators, filters, and 100 Gbps modulators that designers can download and use for designing their circuits. “It takes a significant amount of time to optimize a component. We have gone through a large number of design cycles to ensure these components work well with certain performance levels,” says Watts. As such, clients can launch their products in the market quickly and at lower costs instead of undergoing the quandary of developing components on their own. They can also predict the performance even before producing their first product by building a design from a known good component. More importantly, academic users can leverage the benefits of these components without any monetary investment.
Intending to further advance PIC manufacturing technology, AIM Photonics is currently focusing on integrating combat lasers with silicon PICs. In fact, they have recently demonstrated highly reliable lasers grown on silicon—which is a unique capability in the industry. In a nutshell, as an entity, AIM Photonics has the talent base and access to the right technology to make the U.S. the leader in the field of IP.