Consortium with MIT gets $110 mn promote photonics manufacturing

Consortium with MIT gets $110 mn to promote photonics manufacturing

5:28 PM, 4th August 2015
Consortium with MIT gets $110 mn to promote photonics manufacturing
Associate professor Michael Watts (left) and professor Lionel Kimerling (right).

CAMBRIDGE, US: MIT is a key player in a new $600 million public-private partnership announced by the Obama administration to help strengthen high-tech US-based manufacturing.

Physically headquartered in New York state and led by the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly), the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics) will bring government, industry and academia together to advance domestic capabilities in integrated photonic technology and better position the US relative to global competition.

Federal funding of $110 million will be combined with some $500 million from AIM Photonics’ consortium of state and local governments, manufacturing firms, universities, community colleges and nonprofit organizations across the country.

What’s more, many analysts say this is an area that could help breathe new life into a US manufacturing base that has been in decline in recent years. The public-private partnership aims to spur the twin goals, improving integration of photonic systems while revitalizing US manufacturing. The consortium includes universities, community colleges, and businesses in 20 states. Six state governments, including that of Massachusetts, are also supporting the project.

MIT faculty will manage important parts of the programme: Michael Watts, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, will lead the technological innovation in silicon photonics. Lionel Kimerling, the Thomas Lord professor in materials science and engineering, will lead a programme in education and workforce development.

“Photonics holds the key to advances in computing, and its pursuit will engage and energize research and economic activity from Rochester, New York, to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and beyond,” Martin Schmidt, MIT provost said.

An ongoing partnership

MIT’s existing collaboration with SUNY Poly led to the first complete 300-millimetre silicon photonics platform, Watts said. That effort has led to numerous subsequent advances in silicon photonics technology, with MIT developing photonic designs that SUNY Poly has then built in its state-of-the-art fabrication facility.

Photonic devices are seen as key to continuing the advances in computing speed and efficiency described by Moore’s Law — which may have reached their theoretical limits in existing silicon-based electronics, Kimerling said. The integration of photonics with electronics promises not only to boost the performance of systems in data centres and high-performance computing, but also to reduce their energy consumption — which already accounts for more than 2 percent of all electricity use in the US.

Kimerling points out that a single new high-performance computer installation can contain more than 1 million photonic connections between hundreds of thousands of computer processor units (CPUs). “That’s more than the entire telecommunications industry,” he said — so creating new, inexpensive and energy-efficient connection systems at scale is a major need.

The integration of such systems has been progressing in stages, Kimerling said. Initially, the conversion from optical to electronic signals became pervasive at the network level to support long-distance telecommunication, but it is now moving to circuit boards and will ultimately go to the level of individual integrated-circuit chips.

© Massachusetts Institute of Technology News

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