The University of Southampton

Southampton physicists develop new tools to improve environmental sustainability when producing photonics circuits at a high volume scale

Published: 10 June 2022
Professor Otto Muskens is leading the project

Interdisciplinary Physics and Astronomy research at Southampton have been awarded more than £700,000 Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funding to develop new instruments that can improve environmental sustainability when testing photonic integrated circuits at full wafer scale.

Professor Otto Muskens, Professor of Physics and Head of the Quantum Light and Matter Group, is leading the project that will involve colleagues from the Zepler Institute's (ZI) Silicon Photonics Group and Cornerstone silicon photonics rapid prototyping foundry.

Otto said: “Integrated photonics is becoming a multi-billion-pound industry that is revolutionising information and communication technology. High volume fabrication of circuits with reliable performance requires sophisticated testing methods that can identify any malfunctioning devices early in the process.”

“On-wafer testing reduces unnecessary waste in materials, tooling and energy and feeds information on tolerances back into the manufacturing process. Cleanrooms are amongst the most energy and carbon intensive industries and advanced testing methods can contribute to an improved environmental sustainability.”

“Our new techniques are complementary to existing wafer probers, which only measure end-to-end performance of the device, and allow us to look inside the circuit to obtain information on the individual component of the device.”

“We have been working on the fundamental science of this research for a number of years and have developed the technique to a laboratory prototype that has been successfully used in basic research in our group.”

“Everything was ready for a full-scale development - we had already developed the collaborations with industrial partners and foundries - and this EPSRC funding allows us to now convert all this work into a real project. Our aim is to develop tools that will improve manufacturing research and can initially be used in the characterisation of devices coming out of research labs. However, longer term our ambition is to develop this into a tool than can be used in industry itself.”

As well as working with colleagues in the ZI and at Cornerstone, the team will also collaborate with Smart Photonics in The Netherlands, IHP Microelectronics, in Germany, and the MISSION Program Grant that is aimed at developing a mid-infrared integrated photonics platform for sensing.

Otto added: “For many years we have been looking at using these tools for basic research, it is an exciting challenge for us to be able to develop something that could find much wider use. We are using this opportunity to develop new skills in our lab, which may then be used for other parts of our research.”

“We expect that new and interesting things will appear when we are looking at the range of devices and that there will be plenty of scope of new collaborations and multidisciplinary research.”

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