IMEC, Europe's leading
independent nanoelectronics research institute, reports a method to integrate
high-speed CMOS electronics and nanophotonic circuitry based on plasmonic effects.
Metal-based nanophotonics (plasmonics) can squeeze light into nanoscale structures
that are much smaller than conventional optic components. Plasmonic technology,
today still in an experimental stage, has the potential to be used in future
applications such as nanoscale optical interconnects for high performance computer
chips, extremely sensitive (bio)molecular sensors, and highly efficient thin-film
solar cells. IMEC's results are published in the May issue of Nature Photonics.
The optical properties of nanostructured (noble) metals show great promise
for use in nanophotonic applications. When such nanostructures are illuminated
with visible to near-infrared light, the excitation of collective oscillations
of conduction electrons – called surface plasmons – generates strong
optical resonances. Moreover, surface plasmons are capable of capturing, guiding,
and focusing electromagnetic energy in deep-subwavelength length-scales, i.e.
smaller than the diffraction limit of the light. This is unlike conventional
dielectric optical waveguides, which are limited by the wavelength of the light,
and which therefore cannot be scaled down to tens of nanometers, which is the
dimension of the components on today's nanoelectronic ICs.
Nanoscale plasmonic circuits would allow massive parallel routing of optical
information on ICs. But eventually that high-bandwidth optical information has
to be converted to electrical signals. To make such ICs that combine high-speed
CMOS electronics and plasmonic circuitry, efficient and fast interfacing components
are needed that couple the signals from plasmon waveguides to electrical devices.
As an important stepping stone to such components, IMEC has now demonstrated
integrated electrical detection of highly confined short-wavelength surface
plasmon polaritons in metal-dielectric-metal plasmon waveguides. The detection
was done by embedding a photodetector in a metal plasmon waveguide. Because
the waveguide and the photodetector have the same nanoscale dimensions, there
is an efficient coupling of the surface plasmons into the photodetector and
an ultrafast response. IMEC has set up a number of experiments that unambiguously
demonstrate this electrical detection. The strong measured polarization dependence,
the experimentally obtained influence of the waveguide length and the measured
spectral response are all in line with theoretical expectations, obtained from
finite element and finite-difference-time-domain calculations. These results
pave the way for the integration of nanoscale plasmonic circuitry and high-speed