New polymer to transmit light

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Dow Corning and IBM scientists have unveiled what they are describing as a major step in photonics, using a new type of polymer material to transmit light instead of electrical signals within supercomputers and data centres.

This new silicone-based material offers better physical properties, including robustness and flexibility, making them ideal for applications in big data and for the development of future exascale computers, which are capable of performing a billion billion computations per second.

With exabytes of structured and unstructured data growing annually at 60 percent, scientists have been researching a range of technological advancements to drastically reduce the energy required to move all that data from the processor to the printed circuit board within a computer. Optical interconnect technology offers bandwidth and power efficiency advantages compared to established electrical signalling.

'Polymer waveguides provide an integrated means to route optical signals similar to how copper lines route electrical signals,' explains Bert Jan Offrein, manager of the photonics research group at IBM Research. 'Our design is highly flexible, resistant to high temperatures and has strong adhesion properties – these waveguides were designed with no compromises.'

In a collaboration with Dow Corning, the scientists for the first time fabricated thin sheets of optical waveguide that show no curling and can bend to a 1mm radius and is stable at extreme operating conditions including 85 per cent humidity and 85°C. This new polymer, based on silicone materials, offers an optimised combination of properties for the integration in established electrical printed circuit board technology. In addition, the material can be fabricated into waveguides using conventional manufacturing techniques available today.

'Dow Corning’s breakthrough polymer waveguide silicone has positioned us at the forefront of a new era in robust, data-rich computing, especially as we continue to collaborate with outstanding industry leaders like IBM,' said Eric Peeters, vice president at Dow Corning Electronic Solutions.

'Optical waveguides made from Dow Corning's silicone polymer technology offer customers revolutionary new options for transmitting data substantially faster, and with lower heat and energy consumption. We are confident that silicone-based board-level interconnects will quickly supersede conventional electronic signal distribution to deliver the amazing speeds needed for tomorrow’s supercomputers.'