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The Olden Days

Previously, light production in semiconductors suffered from several problems, including:

Inability of standard silicon-based processes to produce light directly. The vast majority of chips that are produced today use standard silicon technology and suffer from the lack of light emitting devices.

Functional light emitting devices in production use exotic and non-silicon materials to produce light. These materials are not compatible with the production of highly integrated devices -- such as microprocessors -- due to cost and yield issues that cannot be cost effectively eliminated.

What’s the future hold?

The production of light in a standard CMOS process is a fundamentally disruptive force in the semiconductor industry. Light emission technologies will transform the current semiconductor integrated circuit market for decades to come. By bridging the growing gap between the massive computing power of leading-edge microprocessors and the ability to quickly move data on and off chip, Advanced Plasmonics’ technology will support both current and future generations of integrated circuits.

With speeds more then a thousand times faster than conventional on-chip wiring, Advanced Plasmonics’ optical-based technology will support data rates substantially higher than those achieved by current copper interconnect technologies used in today’s integrated circuits. Advanced Plasmonics’ technology enables these massive data rates through light emission devices that are directly interfaced to and between integrated circuits, printed circuit boards, and local area networks. This massive increase in available bandwidth will create new and unprecedented applications by bringing optics-based data communications to the chip and “desk-top”. In addition, there is also the potential to use light for future intra-chip transport of signals and clocks within a single CMOS silicon integrated circuit. This can possibly “tame” one of the most demanding aspects of modern chip design – clock skew.

Enter Advanced Plasmonics.

Advanced Plasmonics’ technology is a departure from other nano-technologies. Standard large volume production CMOS lithography is used to manufacture active CMOS circuits and nano-structures on a single silicon substrate.. Advanced Plasmonics’ technology generates light using nano-antennas that radiate photons.

Unlike LEDs (light emitting diodes) primarily used for displays and/or illumination, PEDs (Plasmon Enabled Devices) are easier to manufacture and are more efficient.

Surface Plasmons

Ok, so what is a plasmon? Plasmons are a physics phenomenon based on the optical properties of metals; they are represented by the energy associated with charge density waves propagating in matter through the motions of large numbers of electrons. Electrons, in a metal, screen an electric field. Light of a frequency below the plasma frequency is reflected. Electrons cannot respond fast enough to screen above the plasma frequency, and so such light is transmitted. Most metals tend to be shiny in the visible range, because their plasma frequency is in the ultraviolet. Metals such as copper have their distinctive color because their plasma frequency is in the visible range. The plasma frequency of doped semiconductors is generally in the infrared range.

Those plasmons that are confined to surfaces and which interact strongly with light are known as surface plasmons. The interface between a conductor and an insulator is where surface plasmons propagate; bound to the surface between the two, they exponentially decay into both media.

Plasmons have a variety of potential uses. Plasmon wires can be much thinner than conventional wires, and could support much higher frequencies, so plasmons have been considered as a means of transmitting information on computer chips. The extremely small wavelengths of plasmons mean that they could be utilized in high resolution lithography and microscopy. Surface-plasmon-based sensors find uses in gas sensing, biological environments such as immuno-sensing and electrochemical studies; they are currently commercially available in some of these applications.

Metallic nano-particles exhibit strong colors due to plasmon resonance, which is the phenomenon that gives stained glass its color. The strong pure colors of medieval stained glass windows are sometimes ascribed to the impurities of the glass. However, metals or metallic oxides are what actually give glass color: gold gives a deep ruby red; copper gives blue or green, iron gives green or brown, and so forth. Plasmons on the surface of the gold nano-particles (i.e. at the interface with the glass) move such that they absorb blue and yellow light but reflect the longer wavelength red to give the glass a characteristic ruby color; the same is true of the other metals/ metal oxides, insofar that they selectively absorb some wavelengths, but reflect others.

Building Plasmon Enabled Devices

In addition to the fundamental plasmon breakthroughs, Advanced Plasmonics has accomplished significant technical milestones relating to its light emitting technologies.

Emitter Devices:
  • Designed, fabricated, and tested light-emitting plasmon devices.
  • Shown that different and multiple modes can be achieved in one device at the same time.
  • Built multiple frequency devices on one chip at the same time, and in the same layer
  • Showed that devices can be built that emit selective frequencies of light
  • Tested emitter switching speeds at 130MHzMEM, limited only by readily available, commercial, detectors.
  • Developed a comprehensive understanding of theory/design/test/fabrication for its light emitting devices
  • Developed frequency-related design rules for development, design, and manufacturing of its light emitting technologies


The production of light emission technologies in a standard CMOS process offers the promise to transform the semiconductor integrated circuit market for decades to come. Advanced Plasmonics technology will support both current and future generations of microprocessors and will reduce the growing gap between the ever-increasing computing power of leading-edge microprocessors and the inability to quickly move data on and off chip.

Appendix:  Brief Overview of Light Generation

In addition to incandescent lights, where the light is produced by electrical heating of a tungsten filament, there are other sources of light. Fluorescent lights contain low pressure mercury vapor in a glass tube which has electrodes at each end. When a current is Advanced across the electrodes, the electrons collide with and ionize the mercury vapor. The ionized mercury vapor emits some light in both visible and ultraviolet ranges. The visible light is emitted directly, while the ultraviolet light is absorbed by the phosphor and re-emitted as visible light. Because a greater fraction of the energy is consumed by light production rather than heating, fluorescent lights are more efficient than incandescent lights. The inside of the glass is coated with a phosphor, a material that is fluorescent. Phosphors absorb high-energy photons, and emit the light as lower energy photons; i.e., they absorb light in the ultraviolet range, and re-emit it as visible light. This can be explained by the fact that some of the electrons of the phosphor do not immediately drop all the way to their ground state, but drop to an intermediate state before dropping to ground state.

The second type of light is a sodium or neon-type light. These are filled with a particular gas at low pressures. Electric current passed through the gas causes electrons of the individual gaseous molecules to jump to higher energy states. They then decay to their normal state, emitting light of a characteristic wavelength: sodium lights are yellow, neon is red, and so on. Some elements, like sodium, give a single, very intense line when the light is passed through a prism to separate the colors (sodium lamps are 6-8x more efficient than incandescent lamps, because their light is a single frequency rather than the mixture found in incandescent lamps). Other elements, such as helium or neon, give a series of lines when the light is passed through a prism, some of which are in the ultraviolet region; the characteristic color of these gases is determined by the combination of the relative intensities of the various bands.

LED (light emitting diode) technology has made recent gains beyond basic display applications to achieve use in low-end illumination applications (flashlights, automobile tail lights, etc.), but with great improvement in reliability over prior filament-based lamps. Economies of scale have continued to make the technology increasingly affordable. The basic mechanism of light emission in LEDs is the combination of electrons and holes to generate a photon. Because electrons must move through the semiconductor material, energy is lost as electrons collide with the bulk of the material.

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