The development history of photonics has evolved from a set of elegantly formulated theorems by physicists, to multi-disciplinary interactions at the second half of the 20th century. Significant progresses in opto-electronic integrated circuits (OEICs), fiber optics, optical MEMS, bio-photonics, and new photonic materials and structures, have resulted in substantial impacts in our life. Taking advantages of strong research efforts in multiple disciplines at the University of Washington, the photonics research activities in the Electrical Engineering Department are cross-disciplinary efforts and interact closely with many other fields, such as micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), bio-medicine, optical communications, nano-technology, chemistry, and material science.
Various research groups have effort in photonics:
- Professor Bruce Darling's research focuses on developing integrated optoelectronics solutions for high-speed and image preprocessing applications. Current effort focuses on smart pixels with smart illumination (SPSI), high-speed photoconductive switching, photodetectors integrated with CMOS, and digital light processing for microscopy.
- Research efforts from Professor Lih Lin combines disciplines of photonics, MEMS, and nanotechnology. One of Lin's projects focuses on miniaturizing integrated photonic systems with sensing and actuation capabilities by MEMS technologies, and exploring the applications of such systems in biomedicine and advanced optical communications. Lin also works with Assistant Professor Babak Amir Parviz on integrated photonics systems in nanometer scales. The aim is to explore new photonic structures and physical phenomena in the nano-world, design and develop theoretical models for such systems, build photonic experimental facilities that are capable of characterizing them, and eventually open a new paradigm for various applications.
- Professor Marty Afromowitz developed a newly patented process for fabricating complex 3-D structures with smoothly-varying elevations in thick layers of a commercially-available negative photoresist called SU-8. This is accomplished through the use of gray-scale illumination from the backside of a transparent wafer and a unique "hot flow" development technique. Most photoresist work is done in very thin layers (on the order of 1 µm) and patterns are almost always "binary." That is, the photoresist is either there, or not. Afromowitz's work makes the fabrication of structures with smoothly-varying elevations and an enormous design flexibility possible for the first time. The method may be applied to the fabrication of micro-optical, micro-mechanical and micro-fluidic structures with heights as great as 1 mm.
- New photonic materials and study of the chemical interactions in the materials are an important foundation for photonic research. The NSF Science and Technology Center on Materials and Devices for Information Technology Research, directed by Professor Larry Dalton, focuses on development of high-performance and low-cost organic materials for next generation information technologies relevant to telecommunications, computing, defense, transportation, medicine, and entertainment. The Center has four research thrusts: (1) End-to-end theory aimed at coordinating research ranging from development of new materials to implementation of major systems. (2) Electro-optic and all-optical material and device technologies to increasing information processing bandwidths. (3) Light sources and organic electronics to facilitate sophisticated integration of electronic and photonic technologies. (4) Nano and micron scale materials development and engineering to achieve new properties and facilitate high-density integration.
Like all other disciplines in science and technology, future advancements in this field will involve strong coupling with other fields, which will allow new ways of making photonic integrated systems, new applications, new structures and new materials, as well as new physical phenomena. Photonics is expected to be an important discipline in UWEE, and the Department is well situated for such collaborative efforts and making pivotal contributions to the advancement in science and technology.