Light connects two worlds on a single chip | 1/18/2019 | Staff
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For the first time, researchers of the University of Twente succeeded in connecting two parts of an electronics chip using an on-chip optical link. A light connection could be a safe way of connecting a high-power component and digital control circuitry on one chip without a direct electrical link. Until now, however, an optical link was not possible using standard silicon chip technology. Vishal Agarwal, a UT Ph.D. student, managed to do so. He realized a very small optocoupler circuit that delivers a data rate of Megabits per second in an energy-efficient way.

In 'smart power' chips, the high-power component can be isolated from the digital control circuits. This isolation guarantees safe operation in application areas like medical and automotive electronics. Until now, such optocouplers were bulky and separate from the chip. An on-chip optocoupler has now been realized by Vishal Agarwal. His optocoupler can be integrated with the electronics using standard chip technology (CMOS). It is about 0.008 mm2 in size and consumes minimal energy.

Source - Detector - Chip - Materials - CMOS

Integrating a light source and a light detector on a chip is not trivial. In general, special materials are needed that can't be introduced in the CMOS process. Silicium is not a good light source by itself. A silicon LED on a chip would emit some infrared light...
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