Are your materials available for purchase today?
NLM has materials available today under academic or commercial R&D licenses or production licenses. While we maintain inventory of some materials, such as our flagship HLD, other materials are produced on demand, which may take 30-90 days depending on amount and complexity.
Isn't Silicon "Good Enough"?
Silicon electro optic devices have been built and are in production but at a high cost of silicon real estate, power and limited speed as compared to hybrid devices utilizing NLM materials. As the datacenters move from 400G to 800G or 1.2T, larger arrays of power hungry silicon modulators and more complex digital signal processing circuitry is required. Utilizing NLM materials enables faster channels (less signal processing complexity), much smaller devices, and tighter integration with electronics, enabling transformative growth that could skip generations in the network hardware roadmap.
Are there other electro-optic materials?
Other electro-optic materials exist and are commercially used. These are typically crystalline compounds such as lithium niobate that are power hungry, physically large and presently used for making fiber optic components. But they are difficult to integrate directly on chips, a key driver needed for the developmentof the electro-optics market. These materials also have very little room for performance improvement unlike NLM's materials that are engineered for specific applications.
Why is the UW lab so special and there is no other competition for these kinds of materials?
The Dalton and Robinson Labs in the UW Department of Chemistry have been continually refining OEO materials for the last 20 years, with over $20 million in government-sponsored R&D funding. In this time, they have developed detailed computational chemistry methods to facilitate theory-aided design, paired with extensive empirical knowledge. As a result, the OEO materials and expertise coming out of UW represent the pinacle of field.
What is the temperature stability of NLM's OEO materials?
Commercial OEO materials can operate at datacenter "extended temperature" specifications of -40 °C-85 °C. They have also demonstrated long-term stability at these temperatures and with appropriate encapsulation technologies can withstand aggressive conditions such as damp heat (85C and 85% relative humidity). NLM materials are available which are capable of withstanding short exposures to temperatures in excess of 200°C during processing, packaging and bonding processes compatible with other organics like OLEDs.
I heard about OEO 20 years ago. Why has it not taken off yet?
OEO Materials have been steadily improving over the past 20 years, from a fraction of the performance of standard electro-optic materials such as lithium niobate to > 10x the performance of lithium niobate. But it is the recent development of nanophotonic device architectures that has unlocked the full potential of OEO materials and will enable a revolution in photonics.
What is an Organic Material ? How is it different from other Materials used in semi-conductors ?
Organic materials are molecules composed largely of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur atoms, which can be arranged in endless combinations using standard chemical synthesis techniques. We encounter many organic compounds in our lives, in everything from living organisms to plastics, fuels, pharmaceuticals, wood/paper, and much more. Some types of organic molecules can be used in electronic and photonic applications; common consumer applications include organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays and liquid crystal (LCD) displays. NLM designs and produces organic electro-optic (OEO) materials that enable incredible optical switching/modulation performance. Such materials utilize different fabrication techniques than common inorganic semiconductor materials used in electronics and photonics such as silicon, germanium, gallium arsenide, or indium phosphide, often including lower-temperature solution-phase processes. Such techniques have been demonstrated for mass production for OLEDs and related products. Furthermore, OEO materials can be continuously improved to meet customer requirements through theory-aided molecular design, while the properties of inorganic semiconductors are defined by their crystal lattice and have very limited room for modification.
What is Optical Computing ? How is it different from what we know today ?
Currently, computers rely on electrical signals flowing through transistors to perform logical computing processes. In optical computing, the electrical signals are replaced by photons (light), which can travel through many materials with little loss or interference, enabling much faster (100s of GHz to THz) operations and substantial reduction in power use. Optical interconnects can move data from one part of a system to another with little loss or any amplifcation. Optical transistors can be used to create the logic elements used for computing components. Electro-optic devices bridge the electronic and optical domains, allowing both types of components to be used on a single chip and leveraging the biggest advantages of both optical computing and conventional CMOS electronics.
Why are you called "Nonlinear Materials" ?
When light encounters most materials, it can interact with the material and be reflected, refracted (bent), or absorbed (e.g. causing the material to appear a particular color). However, photons of light do not substantially interact with each other. However, some materials have properties that allow light to interact within them; such materials are called nonlinear materials because this interaction makes absorbance, refraction, etc. no longer a linear property of the intensity of light. There are many kinds of nonlinear optical effects. NLM presently focuses on the Pockels effect in which a change in voltage (e.g. radio waves or digital data) changes the speed of light travelling through a material. However, there are other effects such as Optical Rectification (light inducing a voltage without being absorbed) or the Optical Kerr Effect (photons of light changing the speed of light in a material) which are as well of interest to NLM.
Where are your materials being used today ?
Our OEO materials are being used for R&D by universities, research institutions, and companies all around the world. Our materials have been incorporated into record-setting devices based on size, bandwidth, and power consumption. We anticipate commercial devices containing our materials to reach the market in the near term.
Have NLM's materials undergone testing according to Telcordia guidelines?
HLD, NLM's flagship material that demonstrated no loss in performance after 500 hours at 85 ˚ C, is currently undergoing a full range of accelerated lifetime testing in accordance with Telecordia guidelines. These tests include expsoure to damp heat (85 ˚ C and 85% relative humidity), dry heat, freeze-thaw cycles, and more. While full Telecordia certification must be ultimately be demonstrated in our customers' devices, these tests, once complete, will demonstrate our materials are capable of surviving the conditions required to achieve such certification.
What is the processing protocol for the materials?
The full details for successful materials processing are provided to customers, but the basic process can be broken down into 4 major steps: 1) Fabricate a device for integration of the OEO material; the silicon and metal layers of such a device are produced in a standard semiconductor foundry. 2) Deposit the OEO material using one of several low-cost, high-throughput solution processing methods, such as spin coating, blade coating, or inkjet printing. 3) Properly anneal the OEO thin film to remove solvent and prepare the material for poling. 4) Pole the material to achieve acentric order of the constituent OEO chromophores, by applying a large electric field (~1 MV/cm) and heating the material above its glass transition temperature, and then cooling to room temperature and removing the poling field. At this point the device is active and can be tested or further packaged.
Are the materials compatible with semiconductor foundry processes?
We expect OEO materials to be integrated in the TAP (Test, Assembly, and Packaging) processes and not in a foundry. While OEO materials cannot withstand the extremely high temepratures (>300 ˚C) involved in some semiconductor foundry processes, the materials would not be integrated into devices until after the foundry, to avoid contamination of these highly controlled processes. Our materials can survive brief exposure to high temperatures (~200 ˚C), and can survive extended exposure at lower temperatures (~140 ˚C), ensuring compatbility with TAP processes.
Where and how will OEO materials be incorporated into chips?
The integration of OEO materials is facile and readily accomplished at the wafer level at the TAP (Test, Assembly, and Packaging) facility, post-Foundry (CMOS &/or Si Photonics), but before device singulation and packaging. The underlying structures for hybrid devices will be fabricated in the Si Photonics Foundry, alongside such features as couplers, waveguides, and splitters, and interconnected with CMOS electronics elements fabrciated in the first step. Integration of OEO materials at the TAP facility after the Foundry processes avoids contamination of sensitive Foundry processes and minimizes the exposure of OEO materials to extreme thermal conditions.