From The Editor | August 3, 2022

Bright Ideas — "Core" Optics & Photonics Market Grows 70% Over 10 Years, Researchers Claim Best Semiconductor Material

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By Abby Proch, Editor

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The U.S. Congress voted 243-187 on July 28 to pass the CHIPS-plus Act  that will direct $52 billion to domestic research, development, and production of semiconductor chips. The Act, also known as The Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act, aims to give the U.S. stronger footing and a larger footprint in semiconductor manufacturing, most of which currently occurs in Asian countries. According to a report by Breaking Defense, the U.S. makes just 12% of the world’s chips. After the vote, President Joe Biden said the Act will create more jobs, strengthen the supply chain, support national security efforts, and lower prices of consumer goods like cars and household appliances reliant on chips.

Concurrently, SkyWater announced plans to build a $1.8 billion semiconductor manufacturing facility alongside the state of Indiana and Purdue University. SkyWater is embarking on the public-private partnership in pursuit of CHIPS Act funding to widen its reach from Minnesota and Florida facilities to Purdue University’s Discovery Park District.  The campus is also home to innovators like Rolls-Royce, Saab, MediaTek, and partners in hypersonic research. The project is expected to create 750 jobs within five years of opening.

Silicon, sure. But what about cubic boron arsenide? Semiconductors come in an array of compositions, and now one research group thinks it may have found the best semiconductor of them all. An article published in Science claims the material overcomes many of silicon’s challenges by providing high mobility to electrons and holes while also offering excellent thermal conductivity. While the find is encouraging, researchers say they still need to improve uniformity and scalability before the material could make a more widespread debut.

A new SPIE report shows that the “core” optics and photonics global market has grown by more than 70% over the past 10 years and is expected to top $400 billion by 2023 or 2024. Core components include essential parts needed to build photonic systems including, but not limited to, lenses, prisms, filters, gratings, and sensors. SPIE looked at pre-pandemic and pandemic era data, noting that 2018 through 2020 had an annual growth rate of about 4% while 2022 will likely post a growth rate of around 12%. SPIE also notes that Japan, as recently as 2020, accounted for 35%, or $106 billion, of the global market. It also noted that global enabled markets, or vertical markets that rely on optics and photonics components, is estimated at a little more than $2 billion.

COVID-19 tests could get even speedier if Columbia University has its way. Researchers with the University and Rover Diagnostics have partnered to develop a cheap, 23-minute PCR test that outpaces the timing but matches the accuracy of its laboratory counterparts. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing is one of the most common ways people receive their coronavirus diagnosis, but not always the quickest. Most samples are sent to central laboratories for processing, which can be time consuming. Now, with Columbia’s test, PCR results can be done in-office and adapted to test for a variety of infectious diseases, including flu and strep throat.

Finally, a group of researchers in the UK have developed a new photoacoustic endomicroscopy probe capable of capturing 3D images of subcellular-scale tissue structural and molecular information faster and more clearly that current methods. The slimmer, two-fiber probe uses one fiber for administering pulsed light that generates acoustic waves and the other fiber for ultrasound detection. Current two-fiber probes are considered bulky and slow, but this rendition combines “wavefront-based beam shaping with light-based ultrasound detection and a fast algorithm for controlling the device” deliver a small form factor and speedy imaging. The probe is expected to offer more widespread use and improve diagnosis accuracy.