Silicon Photonics

What is silicon photonics? 

Silicon photonics (SiPh) is a material platform from which photonic integrated circuits (PICs) can be made. It uses silicon as the main fabrication element.

Advantages and challenges of silicon photonics

PICs enable, extend, and increase data transmission. PICs may consume less power and generate less heat than conventional electronic circuits, offering the promise of energy-efficient bandwidth scaling. SiPh is compatible with CMOS (electronic) fabrication, which allows SiPh PICs to be manufactured using established foundry infrastructure.

Light sources (lasers, the engine of photonic components) are very challenging to develop in SiPh due to the indirect bandgap of silicon (a horizontal shift between the valence and conduction band of the material). For light to be generated, a material needs to have a direct bandgap. Therefore, other materials with direct bandgap, such as indium phosphide (InP), are used to create the lasers, and they are integrated in the SiPh wafer (chip) to drive the photonic components within the photonic circuit.

Silicon photonics | Synopsys

How do photonic and electronic circuits complement each other?

Electronic and photonic circuits can be used together to increase efficiency. Combining them enables advances in integration and bandwidth, which is crucial as electronic circuits approach their integration capacity limit due to heat generated by electric components. This limitation directly affects Moore's Law, which states that the number of components on a chip double about every 24 months. Hence, technology has advanced to a “more than Moore” stage in which the objective is the improvement of cost /performance while adding functionality through materials integration and 3-D structures. In this arena, SiPh and material platforms such as InP, Indium gallium arsenide (InGaAs), and silicon-germanium (SiGe), are playing a role. For example, photonic circuits can be hybrid or monolithically integrated  with electronic circuits to increase product performance with lower energy consumption, low heat generation, and increased speed.

To facilitate broad adoption at acceptable costs, high volume manufacturing of photonic components is needed. SiPh is a material platform processed at the physical level, meaning that the SiPh components will be densely integrated into a chip and will be fabricated at a high volume (millions to billions of units). The chip will then be interconnected with the electronic chip via interposers or Through Silicon Vias ( TSVs) and further assembled into more complex boards. These complex boards may incorporate electronic and optical drivers in a hybrid fashion, along with other chips of different material platforms. The boards will then be packaged, making them ready as a prototype or for volume production as an off-the-shelf commercial product.

SiPh is increasingly used in optical datacom, sensing, biomedical, automotive, astronomy, aerospace, AR/VR and AI applications. Other SiPh application areas are in development, such as integrated LiDAR chips for autonomous vehicles, agricultural and biomedical sensors, lab-on-chip for inexpensive disposable testing, integrated Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) solutions, AI chips for data handling, and integrated chips for aerospace applications.

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Using photonic design tools

Synopsys Photonic Solutions offer a unique set of software tools with photonics DNA that allow designers to simulate chips for different applications and have confidence to go directly to production.

Synopsys’ photonic tools enable high yields in fabrication due to their high-accuracy simulation methods and models at material, device, circuit, system, layout and electronic-photonic design levels. The tools provide rigorous checks to ensure that designs comply with foundry fabrication rules. For example, our photonic layout versus schematic (LVS) flow helps ensure manufacturable mask designs. We also support co-simulation using Sentaurus CAD for complete electro-optic device simulations. Designers can simulate components at the material level, including doping profiles, electronic behavior, and fabrication processes.

Schematic-driven PIC design: from idea to mask | Synopsys

Schematic-driven PIC design: from idea to mask

All these simulation capabilities are needed to integrate photonic components in a dense integrated chip and create a commercially available product ready for high volume production.

Having trustworthy design tools is of paramount importance. The simulation tools used to design PICs must be robust and work seamlessly on multiple levels of simulation: material, device, and circuit. Synopsys offers the industry’s only unified flow for electronic-photonic design, from concept to manufacturing. 

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