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Photonics Research
Photonics is the use of light to transmit large amounts of data at extremely high speeds. UCSB will be the West Coast hub for a consortium led by the American Institute for the Manufacturing of Photonics. Image courtesy National Photonics Initiative.

UCSB Named West Coast Center for National Photonics Institute

July 28, 2015

The University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) has been named as the West Coast hub for a major public-private consortium dedicated to advancing research and manufacturing of integrated photonic technology. The announcement caps a distinguished history at UCSB of research in this potentially transformational technology.

National Photonics Initiative

Photonics is the use of light to transmit large amounts of data at extremely high speeds.

Vice President Joe Biden made the announcement, noting that the total investment in this public-private partnership will exceed $600 million. He compared the emerging field of integrated photonics with the semiconductor revolution. The Vice President said that integrated photonics will help "secure U.S. leadership in the manufacture of next-generation Internet, health care and defense capabilities."

UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang noted that support from Governor Jerry Brown, who pledged $40 million, including one-to-one match requirements for California universities and companies, was key. Yang, who is also a CCST Senior Fellow, thanked the California Council on Science & Technology for its unwavering support for bringing this cutting-edge work to California. "It was truly a large, collaborative effort that built on UCSB's 30 years of leadership in advanced photonics," he said.

Chancellor Yang noted that three UCSB researchers have received Nobel prizes for related work: Herb Kroemer, inventor of the double heterostructure laser, which is used in all data communications and telecom systems worldwide; one in chemistry to Alan Heeger, inventor of conductive polymers, which are widely used for displays and photovoltaic devices; and another one in physics to Shuji Nakamura, inventor of the blue LED, which is widely used for lighting.

The American Institute for Manufacturing of Photonics (AIM), a research and manufacturing institute established under the federal National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), will lead the consortium, headquartered in the State University of New York. The $110 million federal award is intended to align research and development in order to revitalize critical sectors of the country's manufacturing economy. Other California universities, including Stanford, Caltech, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego, will contribute research to the consortium. Industrial partners include Intel, Hewlett Packard, Infinera, Agilent, Lockheed, Raytheon, Sysnopsys, Mentor, and Cadence.

Photonics is the use of light to transmit large amounts of data at extremely high speeds. The technology has the potential to help manufacturers circumvent limits in conventional electronic technologies, which are projected to be overwhelmed by the growing demands of Internet usage and Big Data collection over the coming years. In order to transition between electronic wires and photonic waveguides, however, the two technologies must be brought together.

"AIM and UC Santa Barbara are leading a revolution that is integrating photonics and electronics for the benefits of both," said John Bowers, professor of electrical and computer engineering and of materials at UCSB, director of the campus's Institute for Energy Efficiency (IEE) and lead of the West Coast hub of AIM. Just as photonics has enabled the fiber optic communications which led to the Internet revolution, he said, the increased data capacity, speed and energy efficiency promised by photonics integrated circuits will result in enormous gains for everything from handheld devices to personal computing to data centers. "Our goal... is to eliminate the data bottleneck that advanced silicon chips are facing during the next decade," said Bowers.

UCSB is already a worldwide leader in integrating lasers onto silicon, and its photonics research has spun out several companies including Aurrion, Agility, Calient Networks, Soraa, Aerius Photonics and Freedom Photonics.

The photonics industry is not yet highly integrated. To create a successful end-to-end integrated photonics manufacturing ecosystem in the U.S., research must be amplified, the technology supplied and a workforce trained. AIM will expand upon already existing partnerships between research and industry to align efforts and share resources to meet the needs of this emerging sector. The California Governor's office of Business and Economic Development, (Go-Biz) has pledged significant financial and organizational support to enhance these partnerships and ensure that California is a leader in integrated photonics.

"California stands ready to welcome the nation's newest National Network for Manufacturing Innovation Institute," said California Governor Jerry Brown.