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Dutch researchers develop 1,000 times more efficient nano-LED

Technology could open door to optical data transmission between and within microchips

Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology have developed an LED of some hundred nanometers with an integrated light channel (waveguide) to transport the light signal.

This integrated nano-LED is said to be 1000 times more efficient than the best variants developed elsewhere. The findings were published in the online journal Nature Communications.

The team has made particular progress in the quality of the integrated coupling of the light source and the waveguide. The efficiency of the new nano-LED currently lies between 0.01 and 1 percent, but the researchers expect to be well above that figure soon thanks to a new production method.

A key characteristic of the new nano-LED is that it is integrated into a silicon substrate on a membrane of InP. Furthermore, tests reveal that the new element converts electrical signals rapidly into optical signals and can handle data speeds of several gigabits per second.

With electronic data connections within and between microchips becoming a bottleneck in the exponential growth of data traffic worldwide, optical connections are the obvious successors. But optical data transmission requires an adequate nanoscale light source, and this has been lacking. The researchers in Eindhoven believe that their nano-LED might be a viable solution that will take the brake off the growth of data traffic on chips.

However, they are being cautious about future prospects as the development is at too early  a stage to be exploited by industry at the moment, and the production technology that is needed still has to get off the ground.

The study is part of the Dutch Gravitation Programme 'Research Centre for Integrated Nanophotonics' being performed at TU/e. The Institute for Photonic Integration of TU/e is one of the world's leading research institutes for integrated photonics.

'Waveguide-coupled nanopillar metal-cavity light-emitting diodes on silicon' by V. Dolores-Calzadilla et al; Nature Communications, 2 February 2017.

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