Optical switches could be 'packed densely' on a chip, says team

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A team that includes scientists from Rutgers University in the US and the US National Institute of Standards and Technology says it has developed a technology that could allow optical switches to be packed densely on a chip.

According to the team, its technology requires 'sub square micron footprints' and it contrasts this with the space required by other optical switching technologies.

The team says it has shown that an optical signal can be modulated in a 200nm high waveguide as it passes through an air gap between two gold layers. The modulation takes place when a force generated by the device deforms the top gold layer slightly.

The scientists believe that, when one of these modulators is placed next to a similar static device, it could act as a 2 x 2 switch, based on reported evidence reported of coupling between adjacent waveguides. The technology could also be useful for electrically tunable plasmonic devices.

While the team verified its technology in a 23µm long waveguide with a gap of about 200nm, it says computer modelling shows the waveguides could be as small as 1µm long with a 20nm gap without significant loss. This means optical switches could be scaled closer to electronic device dimensions, it concludes.