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Photonic technologies for advanced information systems

Research project P4/13 (Research action P4)

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Description :

In information technology, any improvement of the information processing capacity of digital electronic systems translates immediately into applications. Strong interest in multimedia and the increasing accessibility of information through networks have led to an almost unlimited demand for information processing capacity. Integrated circuit technologies are progressing very rapidly; since this rapid evolution is expected to continue for at least another decade, it is believed that the demand will be met. Over the last decades, much effort has been devoted to information transmission, in particular to transporting large volumes of data over long distances. Optical fiber technology has made a major contribution, although there remains a large bottleneck caused by economic factors at the subscriber network level). In contrast to this a problem is expected at the level of information transfer over short distances within electronic systems. Today a compact and reliable transfer of data rates of the order of 1 Gb/s - in a serial or parallel way - by means of electrical interconnect techniques forms little problem. However a bottleneck will arise with these techniques when a hundred times larger data flow needs to be transferred.

The present project aims to contribute fundamentally to solving this problem. Emphasis is on research into optic or photonic technologies for short-distance (centimetre to metre) data transfer between electronic processing modules. In order to implement these techniques, however, it is necessary to do some fundamental rethinking of electronic system design and construction; this applies to architecture as well as components and integration technologies. Basic research is thus required at all these levels so as to produce a general solution.

Work is oriented in two directions, which are two paradigms in interconnection and form the two workpackages in the project. The first deals with photonic interconnection with strong parallelism and moderate bitrate per channel, whereas the second is focused on high data rate combined with moderate parallelism. Both approaches are expected to have distinct applications, but the exact potential of each of them is as yet unclear.

Each workpackage is divided into several activities, focusing respectively on architectural aspects, optoelectronic components, optical components, and integration technologies. Basic research is planned in each of these areas. In addition, part of the work is oriented towards implementing demonstrators, the aim being to demonstrate functional operation of an integrated subsystem. This demonstrator activity will naturally lead to strong interactions between activities and partners.

The three partner universities (RUG, VUB, UCL) have already established an effective relationship of collaboration, producing abundant research that has received international recognition.

In addition to its research objective, the project emphasizes training and dissemination of information in the relevant disciplines (undergraduate and postgraduate training, continuing education, organisation of workshops and conferences, reinforcement of collaborations with foreign research teams).

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