A £5.2 million project led by the University of Leeds is aiming to transform data communications with a new generation of photonic microchips.
The UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has announced funding for a multi-university research programme and a pilot manufacturing facility, to be based at Leeds, UK, that will develop the materials needed for the new class of photonic integrated circuits.
The project, which brings together researchers from the universities of Leeds, Sheffield, York and Cambridge, all in the UK, will use an advanced materials production technology developed at Leeds, called Ultrafast Laser Plasma Implantation (ULPI), to build the materials required for the new chips.
Professor Gin Jose, of the Institute for Materials Research in the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Engineering, said: “This is applied research; we are being funded as a manufacturing project. Many of the concepts have already been demonstrated in the lab and this backing will allow us to manufacture on a sufficient scale to prove the commercial readiness of the technology. This will allow Leeds to become the hub of this emerging technology.”
The EPSRC is providing £2.5 million to fund the collaboration under its Manufacturing of Advanced Functional Materials programme. A separate £1.2 million equipment grant from the EPSRC will pay for an ULPI manufacturing facility at Leeds. The rest of the funding will be provided by the participating universities and its 11 industrial partners.
ULPI uses high-powered, short-pulsed lasers to generate highly energetic plasma from a target material that is then implanted into another material. It can, for instance, implant a target glass with erbium—the ion largely responsible for high speed Internet—into silica glass. This creates a modified surface layer with markedly different properties to its individual components.
Professor Jose added that the ULPI process has many other potential applications, including toughening mobile phone displays, building functional glasses for use in new types of biosensors, and creating novel anti-counterfeiting technology to protect products.
By Matthew Peach