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DARPA funds new photonic research center at Illinois


James E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
217-244-1073; kloeppel@illinois.edu

6/21/2004

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has received a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to create a photonic research center to develop ultra-fast light sources for high-speed signal processing and optical communications systems. The grant will provide $6.2 million in funding over four years.

The Hyper-Uniform Nanophotonic Technology Center is directed by Norman K.Y. Cheng, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and a researcher at the university’s Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory. Illinois is the lead university for the center. Partner institutions are Columbia University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

“The HUNT Center’s mission is to develop critical technologies – including hyper-uniform nanophotonic fabrication methods, high-performance quantum dot arrays and ultra-fast lasers – for optoelectronic interconnects,” Cheng said. “The center will address the high-performance optical switching and data routing technologies needed for flexible connections-on-demand and efficient bandwidth delivery in next-generation communications systems.”

A primary focus of the center is improvement in laser technology that is now feasible due to the ultra-fast light-emitting transistor, recently discovered by center researchers Milton Feng and Nick Holonyak Jr. The light-emitting transistor can modulate both electrical and optical signals simultaneously, and could extend the modulation bandwidth of a semiconductor light source from 20 gigahertz to more than 100 gigahertz. Faster signal processing and information transfer would result.

The development of long-wavelength quantum-dot microcavity laser technologies would facilitate large-capacity seamless communications, Cheng said. Researchers at the center will explore ways to improve the size, distribution and optical quality of quantum dots that could be incorporated into the active region of light-emitting-transistor-based lasers and long-wavelength quantum-dot lasers. Proposed techniques include nanoscale semiconductor growth and characterization, nanopatterning, and nanostructure device design and fabrication.