Tag Archives: Photonic Integrated Circuits

Methods of Optical Coupling

An optical coupler is necessary for transferring optical energy into or out of a waveguide. Optical couplers are used for both free-space to waveguide optical energy transmission as well as a transmission from one waveguide to another waveguide, although the methods of coupling for these scenarios are different. Some couplers selectively couple energy to a specific waveguide mode and others are multimode. For the PIC designer, both the coupling efficiency and the mode selectivity are important to consider for optical couplers.

Where the coupling efficiency η is equal to the power transmitted into the waveguide divided by the total incident power, the coupling loss (units: dB) is equal to
L = 10*log(1/η).

Methods of optical coupling include:

  • Direct Focusing
  • End-Butt Coupling
  • Prism Coupling
  • Grating Coupling
  • Tapered Coupling (and Tapered Mode Size Converters)
  • Fiber to Waveguide Butt Coupling

Direct Focusing for Optical Coupling

Direct focusing of a beam to a waveguide using a lens in free space is termed direct focusing. The beam is angled parallel with the waveguide. This is also one type of transverse coupling. This method is generally deemed impractical outside of precision laboratory application. This is also sometimes referred to as end-fire coupling.

End-Butt Coupling

A prime example of end-butt coupling is for a case where a laser is fixated to a waveguide. The waveguide is placed in front of the laser at the light-emitting layer.

Prism Couplers

Prism coupling is used to direct a beam onto a waveguide when the beam is at an oblique incidence. A prism is used to match the phase velocities of the incident beam and the waveguide.

Prism Coupling

Grating Couplers

Similar to the prism coupler, the grating coupler also functions to produce a phase match between a waveguide mode and an oblique incident beam. Gratings perturb the waveguide modes in the region below the grating, producing a set of spatial harmonics. It is through gratings that an incident beam can be coupled into the waveguide with a selective mode.

Grating Coupler in RSoft

Tapered Couplers

Explained in one way, a tapered coupler intentionally disturbs the conditions of total internal reflection by tapering or narrowing the waveguide. Light thereby leaves the waveguide in a predictable manner, based on the tapering of the waveguide.

Tapered Mode Size Converters

Mode size converters exist to transfer light from one waveguide to another with a different cross-sectional dimension.

Butt Coupling

The procedure of placing the waveguide region of a fiber directly to a waveguide is termed butt coupling.

Programs for PIC (photonic Integrated Circuit) Design

For building PICs or Photonic Integrated Circuits, there are a number of platforms that are used in industry today. Lumerical Suite is a major player for instance with built in simulators. Cadence has a platform that can simulate both photonic and electronic circuits together, which for certain applications provides a major advantage. There are two platforms that I’ve become familiar with, which are the Synopsys PIC Design Suite (available for students with an agreement, underwritten by a professor at your university to ensure it’s use is for only educational purposes) and Klayout using Nazca Design packages.

Synopsys is another great company with advanced programs for photonic simulation and PIC design. Synopsys Photonic Design Suite can include components that are designed using Rsoft. OptoDesigner is the program in the PIC design suite where PICs are designed, yet the learning curve may not be what you were hoping. The 3,000+ page manual let’s the user dive into the scripting language PheoniX, which is necessary to learn for PIC design using Synopsys. Using a scripting language means that designing your PIC can be automated, thereby eliminating repetitive designing. There also comes other advantages to this such as being able to fine tune one’s design without needing to click and drag components. Coding for PIC design might sound tedious, but if you start to use it, I think you’ll realize that it’s really not and that it’s a very powerful way of designing PICs. If you’d like to use PheoniX scripting language using the Synopsys PIC design suite, note that the scripting language is similar to C.

Synopsys PIC Design Suite, Tutorial Program for Ring Resonator

One of the greatest aspects of OptoDesigner and the PIC Design Suite is the simulation capabilities. Much like the simulations that can be run in Rsoft, these are available in OptoDesigner.

Running FDTD in OptoDesigner

The downside of Synopsys PIC Design Suite is in the difficulty of obtaining a legal copy that can be used for any and all purposes, even commercial. I mentioned that I obtained a student version. This is great for learning the software, to a certain extent. The learning stops when I would like to build something that could be sent out to a foundry for manufacture. Let’s be honest though, there is a lot to learn before getting to that point. Still, if we would even like to use a Process Design Kit (PDK) which contains the real component models for a real foundry so that you can submit your design to be built on a wafer, you will need to convince Synopsys that the PDK is only used for educational purposes and not only for learning, but as part of an education curriculum. If your university let’s you get your hands on a PDK with Synopsys Student version, you will essentially have free range to design PICs to your hearts content. If you have a student version, you’ll still have to buy a professional version if you want to design a PIC using a foundy PDK, submit it for a wafer run and sell it. I’ll let you look up the cost for that. The best way to use Synopsys is to work for a company that has already paid for the profession version, in conclusion.

Now, if you find yourself in the situation where all the simulation benefits of using OptoDesigner are outweighed by the issue of needing to perform a wafer run, you might just want to use Klayout with Nazca Design photonic integrated circuit design packages. These are both open source. Game changer? Possibly. Suddenly, you picture yourself working as an independent contractor for PIC design someday and you’ll have Klayout to thank.

Klayout and the Nazca Design packages are based on the very popular Python programming language. Coding can be done in Spyder, Notepad or even Command Prompt (lol?). If you aren’t familiar with how Python works, PIC design might move you to learn. Python takes the place of PheoniX scripting language as is used in OptoDesigner, so you still have the automation and big brain possibilities that a scripting language gives you for designing PICs. As for simulations, you’ll have to go with your gut, but you could use discrete components to design your circuit and evaluate that.

Klayout doesn’t come with a 3,000+ page manual, but you’ll likely find that it is a simpler to use than OptoDesigner. Below is a Python script, which generates a .gds file and then the file opened in Klayout.

Python Script for PIC Design in Klayout using Nazca Design packages
.gds file opened in Klayout

Optical Waveguides

Just as a metallic strip connects the various components of an electrical integrated circuit, optical waveguides connects components and devices of an optical integrated circuit. However, optical waveguides differ from the flow of current in that the optical waves travel through the a waveguide in a spatial distribution of optical energy, or mode. In contrast to bulk optics, which guide optical waves through air, optical waveguides guide light through dielectric conduits.

Bulk Optical Circuit:


Optical Waveguides:


The use of waveguides allows for the creation of optical integrated circuits or photonic integrated circuits (PIC). Take for example, the following optical transmit and receive module:


Planar Waveguides

A planar waveguide is a structure that limits mobility in only one direction. If we consider the planar waveguide to be on the x axis, then the waveguide may limit the travel of light between two values on the x axis. In the y and z directions, light may travel infinitely. The planar waveguide does not serve many practical uses, however it’s concept is the basis for other tpyes of waveguides. Planar waveguides are also referred to as slab waveguides.Planar waveguides can be made out of mirrors or using a dielectric with a high refractive index slab. See also, Planar Boundaries, Total Internal Reflection, Beamsplitters.


Rectangular Waveguides

Rectangular waveguides can also be built either from mirrors or using a high refractive index rectangular waveguide.


The following are useful waveguide geometries:


Various combinations of waveguides may produce different and useful configurations of waveguides:





Optoelectronic Integrated Circuit Substrate Materials

The substrate material used on an optical integrated circuit (OIC) is dependent primarily on the function performed by the circuit. An optical integrated circuit may consist of sources, modulators, detectors, etc and no one substrate will be optimal for all components, which means that a compromise is needed when building an integrated circuit. There are two main approaches that taken to deciding on a solution to this compromise: hybrid and monolithic approaches.


Hybrid Approach

The hybrid approach attempts to bond more than one substrate together to obtain an optimization for each device in the integrated circuit. This approach allows for a more optimized design for each component in theory, however the process of bolding the various elements together is prone to misalignment and damage from vibration and thermal expansion. For this reason, although the hybrid approach is a theoretically more otpimized approach, it is more common to use the monolithic approach for OIC.


Monolithic Approach

The monolithic OIC uses a single substrate for all devices. There is one complication in this approach which is that most OIC will require a light source, which can only be fabricated in optically active materials, such as a semiconductor. Passive materials, such as Quartz and Lithium Niobate are effective as substrates, however an external light source would need to be coupled to the substrate to use it.


Optically Passive and Active Materials

Optically active materials are capable of light generation. The following are examples of optically passive materials:

  • Quartz
  • Lithium Niobate
  • Lithium Tantalate
  • Tantalum Pentoxide
  • Niobium Pentoxide
  • Silicon
  • Polymers

The following are optically active materials:

  • Gallium Arsenide
  • Gallium Aluminum Arsenide
  • Gallium Arsenide Phosphide
  • Gallium Indium Arsenide
  • Other III-V and II-VI semiconductors


Losses in Substrate due to Absorption

Monolithic OICs are generally limited to the active substrates above. Semiconductors emit light at a wavelength corresponding to their bandgap energy. They also absorb light at a wavelength equal to or less than their bandgap wavelength. It follows then, for example, if a light emitter, a waveguide and a detector are all fabricated in a single semiconductor, there is a considerable issue of light being absorbed into the substrate, meaning that not enough light will be present for the detector. Thus, reducing losses due to absorbtion is one of the main concerns in substrate materials.