Development of Integrated Photonics Technology

Last month, Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), one of the global top 50 universities in the field of Engineering & Technology in the QS World University rankings, published the article “Netherlands tames the light in photonic chips” announcing the launch of the Photonic Integration Technology Center (PITC), an R&D lab focused on accelerating the development of integrated photonics technology. 

As Head of Partnerships at The Coretec Group, I am constantly scanning the globe for technical expertise and partnerships to advance our products. Having been involved with commercialization of early stage technologies for almost 20 years, my passion and focus is finding the right strategies to make that happen, and it is for this exact reason that I found what TU/e is doing so interesting.   

After earning my Ph.D. in Materials Science and a dual Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, I co-founded a tech startup based upon my doctoral work, and have been immersed in startups ever since. As a technical and business mentor to entrepreneurs, and a regular reviewer for the National Science Foundation of early-stage technology grant proposals for small businesses, what I find intriguing, and repeated time and time again, are the typical strengths and shortcomings in academic approaches to commercialization.   

Quite often there is an ocean between the early stage, proof of concept products typical in universities and the more advanced prototypes needed in industry. This leap from proof of concept to prototype is often derailed by an incomplete understanding of the challenges associated with both the technical development and the business needs. These challenges range from an incomplete understanding of the value proposition as articulated by the customer and the supply chain and support needed to create the product to articulating the precise technology development milestones needed to satisfy the customers’ needs. It is for these reasons that academic and industry partnerships are so powerful. These partnerships enable each party to do what they do best – academia can remain focused on the technical development through rigorous scientific methodologies, while industry can validate the scalability and profitability of the technology. When each party is working in collaboration with the other, they are aware of each other’s goals and adjust accordingly. 

There are many premier academic institutions performing groundbreaking work in new technologies, and TU/e is one of those. TU/e’s announcement of the creation of the PITC creates that needed environment for partnerships and opens the door of opportunity for amazing advances in integrated photonics with a greater chance of commercialization. This partnership builds upon TUE’s stated objective of performing research that is closely aligned with industry needs. 

Traditionally, chips have been built upon the semiconducting characteristics of materials, mostly silicon, in such a way that electrons are used as the mode of information transfer. In our quest for more and more data, we continually approach the physical limits of current electronic chips, generally because of the heat that is generated from the resistance of moving electrons.   

In contrast, light particles (photons) do not generate this kind of heat, and if used properly, show promise in being able to transmit data in a similar way to electrons. While there are many researchers working in exactly this area, TU/e’s expertise in this area is world renown, including Dr. Bakker’s work with hexagonal silicon structures

We at The Coretec Group are excited about the creation of the PITC and look forward to seeing what kinds of technological advances will be made in integrated photonics. We also consider ourselves fortunate to be working directly with Dr. Erik Bakkers as he and his team evaluate the specific properties of our Cyclohexasilane, as we hope to be an integral part of the shift from electronic chips to photonic chips.    

Michelle Tokarz, Ph. D. 

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