Fiber Optics Group Gets $9.6-Million Grant
The Department's Fiber & Electro-Optics Research Center (FEORC) has received a $9.6 million grant from the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to continue an optical sciences research program.
The new five-year research project will investigate optical fiber materials, optoelectronics, and fundamental optical materials science in microelectronics and high-speed communications, as well as some revolutionary work in nanostructured materials. Specific applications range from optical microchips to high-speed communications waveguide devices.
Optical microchips involve the use of fiber optics to create circuits that conduct light instead of electricity. Advantages would include greater speed, lower temperatures, and the ability to make much smaller chips. Although the research is still in its infancy, "the next generation of computer systems or electronics systems might be optical," said Rick Claus, FEORC director.
Work in nanostructured materials is progressing rapidly, according to Claus. "These materials, in the form of an alloy such as a metal or ceramic, are made of the same atoms as their more common forms, but the atoms are arranged in nanometer-sized clusters, which become the building blocks of new materials," he said.
Claus and his colleagues, Yanjiing Liu, You-Xioung Wang, and Wei Zhou, have already demonstrated that "these new materials have remarkable electronic, optical, mechanical and other properties in comparison to larger bulk materials of the same molecular composition."
Advantages of using nanoparticles for materials fabrication include the ability to process the materials at low temperatures. Particularly important, Claus said, is "the possibility of forming ultrahard ceramic-like coatings on relatively soft materials at room temperature."
The ability to build films from nanoparticles could provide an alternative method of producing microelectronic circuits, he explained. "It's possible that we'll be able to build circuits from the ground up, instead of the current top-down method of etching a substrate."
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