PORTLAND, Ore. Organic nanoscopic optical materials have for the first time dipped below the critical 1-volt mark with five times greater speed and other leading edge performance characteristics, researchers reported this week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle.
Five times greater speed translates to 5 terabits/s or 625 gigabytes, the researchers said, adding that they achieved 10-fold lower power consumption and 10-fold decrease in manufacturing costs compared with industry standard materials based on lithium niobate crystals.
"We knew we had something a few years ago when our material was twice as fast at one-half the normal voltage, but we wanted to wait to make our big announcement until it was obviously worth taking from the research stage to commercialization," said Alvin Kwiram, a chemistry professor and the executive director of the Science & Technology Center on Materials and Devices for Information Technology Research at the University of Washington.
Seattle-based Lumera Corp. has licensed the optical material and plans to commercialize it. Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and the Defense Department are evaluating the new optical material, and according to Kwiram, the first commercial applications should be available in less than two years.
Organic electro-optic polymers have long promised vastly improved speeds, setting the stage for futuristic applications, such as optical backplanes that use light instead of electrons to communicate between printed-circuit boards.
Unfortunately, "organics" perceived fragile structure has kept many researcher hard at work since air, water and warm temperatures seem to denature organic materials, rendering their lifetimes too short for commercialization.
"We think we understand how to insure the long-term stability of this new optical material. After much testing and experimentation we have concluded that if we exclude oxygen, we can make organic optical polymers even more long lasting than lithium niobate," said Kwiram.
The new material can carry as many as 100 different simultaneous 50-gigabit channels, each a different color of light, and can be demultiplexed with a simple micro-resonator, which Kwiram claims are available from the California Institute of Technology and the University of Southern California.
"These materials are enabling new applications beyond the threshold of what we are used to thinking as possible. Many new kinds of signal processing designs using photonics are now going to be possible. We also think that we will not replace lithium niobate but will complement it in unique new ways, such as for optical interconnects for backplanes," Kwiran said.
"We also think that now 100 GHz converters are possible. Our
material should also make possible optical gyros and optical beam steering," he added.
The organic material has already surpassed the marks set for 2006 in the original National Science Foundation charter for the Science & Technology Center. NSF plans to supply $40 million over the next decade. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), a major supporter of electro-optic materials research, has also had its expectations exceeded by the recent results, said Kwiram, who predicted that total funding will top $100 million through 2012.