Optica Foundation awards grants for communications research as part of 20th Anniversary Challenge

Dec. 15, 2022
The grants will help fund work in such areas as photonic integration, nanotechnology, and free-space optical communications.

The Optica Foundation revealed that it has awarded three grants of $100,000 each to researchers working in various aspects of optical communications. The grants are part of the organization’s 20th Anniversary Challenge and will help fund work in such areas as photonic integration, nanotechnology, and free-space optical communications.

“As we approach the limits of Moore’s Law, we need to seek new ways of addressing the ever-increasing demand for bandwidth,” said Andrew Forbes, a member of the 20th Anniversary Challenge Selection Committee. “The research being conducted by Challenge recipients explores potential paths that respond to the growing workload that’s been building on existing communications capacity.”

Grant recipients include:

  • Chaoran Huang, Chinese University of Hong Kong, China, to advance work toward an integrated photonic neuromorphic processor that will enable intelligent, energy-efficient signal processing. The device, enabled via silicon photonics, could display 10X greater energy efficiency and 1,000X less processing latency than conventional current DSPs. “A photonic neural network is a hardware realization of a deep learning model and will allow us to use photonic devices and shifts to process optical communication signals faster and with more power efficiency,” says Huang. “We plan to build a photonic neural network chip that can provide the sustainable processing speed and energy efficiency.”
  • Mark Lawrence, Washington University, U.S., for use of nanotechnology to produce fast, low-power, and high-resolution meta-reflect-arrays for massive space-division-multiplexing (SDM) in a free-space optical communication environment. Such arrays could enable the use of free-space optics in applications ranging from data centers to rural broadband and consumer device connectivity. Lawrence’s work includes the development of nano-scale antennas. “In my lab, we are making little pixels using nanotechnology that are super sensitive to the tiniest changes in electrical current and harnessing many of these currents in concert to steer optical information between different free-space channels,” Lawrence explains. “By minimizing the energy wasted on steering, we can exploit the flexibility to make optical data travel the path consuming the least amount of time and energy. In short, by building optical communication networks from pixels that are super sensitive, it makes the network highly flexible.” The technology also could be applied to the design and development of picosecond optical displays, among other potential uses.
  • Mengjie Yu, University of Southern California, U.S., for development of an integrated high-speed mid-infrared electro-optic modulator for free-space optical communications. Free-space optics has been used for years for point-to-point communications (see, for example, “Public transit security system opts for free-space optics"). However, further work is needed to help the technology support today’s and tomorrow’s high transmission rates. Yu is working to design and develop a low-loss integrated electro-optic modulator on thin-film lithium niobate in the mid-infrared for such applications. “We need a low-loss modulator in the mid-infrared for free-space optics, and currently, this component is missing,” said Yu. “But with direct modulation in the mid-infrared, we have the potential of transporting considerable amounts of data at a high-speed rate in free space. The key is to leverage an integrated photonic technology.”

Optica says the recipients expect to report initial results by the second quarter of 2023.

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About the Author

Stephen Hardy | Editorial Director and Associate Publisher, Lightwave

Stephen Hardy is editorial director and associate publisher of Lightwave and Broadband Technology Report, part of the Lighting & Technology Group at Endeavor Business Media. Stephen is responsible for establishing and executing editorial strategy across the both brands’ websites, email newsletters, events, and other information products. He has covered the fiber-optics space for more than 20 years, and communications and technology for more than 35 years. During his tenure, Lightwave has received awards from Folio: and the American Society of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) for editorial excellence. Prior to joining Lightwave in 1997, Stephen worked for Telecommunications magazine and the Journal of Electronic Defense.

Stephen has moderated panels at numerous events, including the Optica Executive Forum, ECOC, and SCTE Cable-Tec Expo. He also is program director for the Lightwave Innovation Reviews and the Diamond Technology Reviews.

He has written numerous articles in all aspects of optical communications and fiber-optic networks, including fiber to the home (FTTH), PON, optical components, DWDM, fiber cables, packet optical transport, optical transceivers, lasers, fiber optic testing, and more.

You can connect with Stephen on LinkedIn as well as Twitter.

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