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Optical chip blends silicon and erbium, handles 170Gbit/s

Laura Agazzi, a PhD candidate at the University of Twente, has developed a chip which takes advantage of the properties of silicon and erbium to create an ultra fast optical amplifier.

While silicon is suitable for creating waveguides and performing passive conduction, it cannot amplify an optical signal. Through the use of aluminium oxide doped with erbium, the chip has a capacity of up to 170Gbit/s, with a gain of 7.2dB at 1533nm.
One possible application for the technology is a laser with an extremely narrow linewidth – Agazzi is working on a device with a 1.7kHz linewidth. "In any application that needs emission or amplification of light, this integration of both materials is useful. It is not limited to telecom; you could also use these chips for sensor purposes and for tracing extremely small particles," Agazzi added.
As part of her research, Agazzi investigated the optical properties of aluminium oxide doped with erbium in order to understand the mechanisms that have a negative influence on amplification. One of these is the energy transfer up conversion (ETU). "If you want large amplification, you would like to put many erbium ions in the material," said Agazzi, "but this can cause a higher ETU. There are ways to adapt the host material so there is less interaction between the ions and my models have given me a better insight into the mechanisms that reduce the amplification."

Graham Pitcher

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