News | February 8, 2011

Light-Speed Developments In Photonic Crystal Technology


European scientists and engineers are working together on the COPERNICUS project, developing cutting-edge photonic crystal technology that has the potential to make electronic devices much faster, smaller and more efficient.

Photonic technology uses light – instead of electric current – to send and receive signals at extremely high speeds. The technology has a huge number of applications, from telecommunications, medicine and manufacturing to aviation, construction, consumer equipment and many other areas.

The COPERNICUS project brings together eight European academic and industrial partners with high profiles in photonics, nanotechnology, modelling and developing new technologies for telecommunications and aerospace.

Coordinated by Thales Research and Technology, France, the Consortium is composed of The University of Nottingham UK; the Laboratory for Photonics and Nanostructures (LPN) and Optical Functions for Information and Communication Technologies (FOTON), both research units of the French National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS); DTU Fotonik at the Technical University of Denmark; the University of Ferrara in Italy; and industrial partners u2t Photonics, Germany and Thales Systèmes Aéroportés, France.

COPERNICUS, which runs until the end of 2012, has received funding worth nearly €3 million from the European Commission's Information Society Technologies Programme.

Photonic crystals represent a ‘disruptive' technology – meaning they have the potential to completely change the way things are currently done in this field. Photonic crystals are nanoscale materials, enabling unprecedented control of light and the miniaturisation of key functions. Significant reductions in power consumption can also be achieved.

The consortium is named in honour of 16th-century astronomer and mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus, whose ground-breaking theory – placing the sun at the centre of the solar system – turned contemporary thinking on its head. At the same time, the consortium wishes to raise awareness of the central and growing role of photonics in modern information and communication technology systems.

Project Coordinator, Alfredo de Rossi of Thales Research and Technology in France, said: "We believe that our approach has all the hallmarks of a highly disruptive technology with the potential to place Europe at the forefront of photonics."

The work comes at an important time for Europe: the photonics industry is growing rapidly and in September 2009 the European Commission designated photonics as one of five key enabling technologies for our future prosperity. According to the Photonics21 European Technology Platform, the world market for photonics products reached €270 billion in 2008, of which €55 billion was produced in Europe – a growth of nearly 30 per cent since 2005.

As well as technological developments, the project contributes to the structuring of the European Research Area.

Professor Eric Larkins, of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at The University of Nottingham, said: "We are actively supporting the transfer of knowledge and technology within the consortium and ultimately to the wider community. For example, we are producing technical tutorials for training in cutting-edge technologies. As the project progresses, these will be available through the project website to students and researchers outside the consortium."

A key aim of the COPERNICUS project is to develop very high speed, compact demultiplexing receivers, used to separate optical signals that have been transmitted together. These can be used where several light signals of different wavelengths, or colours, are transmitted together and must then be separated by the receiver so that the signal can be reconstructed. To achieve this, the consortium will target technological breakthroughs in ultra-compact integrated optical devices including switches, filters and detectors.

Photonic devices will address the pressing need for low-power, ultra-high bandwidth data links in server farms, optical storage networks and on-board internet/entertainment systems, where demand is driving the data bandwidth and technology integration level rapidly upwards. Next generation telecom systems will also benefit from these devices.

This technology is also expected to play an important role in the convergence of photonics and electronics, where the high-speed, ultra-low power consumption and extreme compactness of this technology makes it ideal for a wide range of uses.

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SOURCE: The University of Nottingham