Advancements in Programmable Photonic Processors: Integration of Microelectromechanical Systems onto Photonic Chips

Researchers at DGIST and KAIST Achieve Breakthrough in Programmable Photonic Integrated Circuits

Programmable photonic integrated circuits (PPICs) have the potential to revolutionize computing, communication, and sensing capabilities. These circuits process light waves and offer faster, more efficient, and massively parallel computing capabilities compared to conventional supercomputers. In a significant breakthrough, researchers at Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST) in South Korea, in collaboration with Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), have successfully integrated microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) onto PPIC chips. This advancement holds the promise of reducing power consumption, improving performance, and enabling the development of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, neural networks, quantum computing, and communications.

MEMS Integration: A Key Milestone in PPIC Development

The integration of MEMS onto PPIC chips marks a major milestone in the development of programmable photonic processors. MEMS are tiny components that can convert optical, electronic, and mechanical changes to perform various communication and mechanical functions required by an integrated circuit. The researchers at DGIST and KAIST have achieved a significant breakthrough by integrating silicon-based photonic MEMS technologies onto PPIC chips, operating with extremely low power requirements.

Dramatic Reduction in Power Consumption

One of the most remarkable achievements of this research is the dramatic reduction in power consumption. By moving away from the dependence on temperature changes required by existing “thermo-optic” systems, the researchers have managed to reduce power consumption to femtowatt levels. This represents an improvement of over a million times compared to the previous state of the art. Additionally, the technology allows for the fabrication of chips that are up to five times smaller than existing options, opening up new possibilities for miniaturization and integration.

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Innovative Concepts in Fabrication

The key to achieving this breakthrough lies in the application of innovative concepts in the fabrication of silicon-based parts. The researchers have developed a manufacturing process that is compatible with conventional silicon wafer technology, enabling large-scale production of photonic chips. This compatibility is crucial for the commercial viability and widespread adoption of PPICs in various applications.

Manipulating Light Waves and Controlling Coupling

The integrated components on the PPIC chips have the ability to manipulate a feature of light waves known as “phase” and control the coupling between different parallel waveguides. These capabilities are essential for building programmable photonic integrated circuits. By interacting with micromechanical actuators, which act as switches, the integrated components complete the programmable integrated circuit.

Future Prospects and Applications

With this breakthrough, the researchers envision the development and commercialization of a photonic computer that surpasses conventional electronic computers in various applications. Specific use cases include inference tasks in artificial intelligence, advanced image processing, and high-bandwidth data transmission. The team aims to push the boundaries of computational technology and contribute to the field of photonics, further advancing its practical applications in modern technology.


The integration of microelectromechanical systems onto photonic chips represents a significant advancement in the field of programmable photonic processors. The achievement of dramatically reduced power consumption and the ability to manipulate light waves and control coupling opens up new possibilities for faster, more efficient, and massively parallel computing. The researchers at DGIST and KAIST are poised to continue pushing the boundaries of computational technology and contribute to the practical applications of photonics in modern technology. As this technology evolves, it holds the potential to revolutionize various industries, including artificial intelligence, image processing, and data transmission.

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