Researchers around the world have been looking for a way to make laser with Silicon or Germanium i.e. use it as a light source. Bringing the 50 year quest to an end, a team from the Technical University of Eindhoven and the Technical University of Munich has now succeeded in developing light-emitting Si-Ge alloys. This Silicon laser can be integrated into today’s chipsets to create a smaller and faster chipset with improved thermals.
With data centers becoming increasingly overburdened, the need for a smaller and faster chipset is dire. One of the most dogging issues electrical engineers face is heat. However, the new solution, when implemented, will be without the woes of heat, slow on-chip and chip to chip communication as well as high energy consumption.
Scientists have been working on a similar solution for decades now. However, every problem they encountered came back to the fact that silicon is an indirect bandgap semiconductor, i.e., it cannot emit light. By 2015, they knew the solution to this was silicon in a hexagonal shell, they were still unable to produce silicon laser, not until now at least.
The research team at the Technical University of Eindhoven and the Technical University of Munich led by Erik Bakkers have finally come up with a solution. They were able to build an improved hexagonal silicon-germanium shell. These nanowires, when excited by an external laser, can transmit light.
According to Bakkers:
By now we have realized optical properties, which are almost comparable to indium phosphide and gallium arsenide, and the materials’ quality is steeply improving.
If things run smoothly, we can create a silicon-based laser in 2020. This would enable tight integration of optical functionality in the dominant electronics platform, which would break open prospects for on-chip optical communication and affordable chemical sensors based on spectroscopy.
Currently, the team is working on finding ways to incorporate new nanowires into the dominant electronics platforms. However, they still need to produce a laser before they have technology that could be used in chips.