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NanoOpto seeks opto builders for its pillar structures

Posted: 05 Apr 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:NanoOpto? active optical? optoelectronics? silicon wafer? optical communication?

NanoOpto Corp. will work with developers of passive and active optical elements to identify optoelectronic products that could make use of the company's passive pillar elements, CEO Barry Weinbaum said. The pillar structures are created in standard silicon wafers using mold-based imprinting patterned through photolithography.

The high-yielding wafer-scale structures are "prebuilt for integration," Weinbaum said at last month's Optical Fiber Communications conference.

On its own, NanoOpto has used the subwavelength elements as the basis for beam-splitter devices for polarization management and plans to expand soon into wave-division multiplexing management. The company showed polarizers, polarization beam splitters and polarization beam combiners at the OFC show.

Stephen Chou, NanoOpto founder and the developer of its mold imprinting technology, studied nanoimprint lithography over 20 years as a researcher at Princeton University and the University of Minnesota. Chou formed an intellectual property (IP) company to gain rights to his work at the two schools, then formed NanoOpto to study applications of the patents in optical communication areas. Chou will use his separate IP company to license the application rights in other vertical markets.

At Princeton, Chou struck up a relationship with visiting professor Ed Zschau, a former Silicon Valley member of Congress who has remained active in venture funding. Zschau and Chou collaborated with Sun Microsystems Inc. founder Howard Lee on developing a viable business plan for NanoOpto, and brought in Y.K. Park of Agere Systems as senior director of engineering. Park was instrumental in helping Agere develop the Manufacturing Realization Center in Breinigsville, Pa., a state-of-the-art optoelectronics manufacturing facility that Agere consolidated into New Jersey operations earlier this year.

Loose alignment

Park said that one immediate advantage in offering beam-splitter components is that the devices would allow photonic integration in subsystems with much looser laser alignment tolerances, thus allowing the use of more automated pick-and-place equipment in optoelectronics manufacturing.

NanoOpto's nanoimprint technology allows looser specs in the company's own manufacturing of passive photonic elements, as well. Where a MEMS device or arrayed waveguide grating might be destroyed by a speck of dust entering the clean room during manufacturing, the NanoOpto elements, as simple devices that diffract incident light, are much more tolerant of manufacturing defects.

"By having a generic base element, we can run multiple devices in one production line," said Hubert Kostal, vice president of marketing and sales. "We don't have to dedicate a wafer to one device type, thus we don't have to justify bringing a line up for one product that may not be a big seller."

Park's team has been exploring several techniques for combining functions on a wafer. When the elements are used with light-deflection techniques, unique forms of optoisolators could be developed. When a NanoOpto device is combined with a garnet Faraday rotator, it could be used in Raman amplification tasks.

Despite the industry downturn, at the end of 2001 NanoOpto was able to close on a $16 million Series A funding round led by Bessemer Venture Partners, Morganthaler, New Enterprise Associates and U.S. Trust's Excelsior Venture Partners III LLC. The cash infusion has allowed the company to bring up the initial passive products in its new fab, and NanoOpto plans to sample its first integrated photonic components in the second half of 2002.

? Loring Wirbel

EE Times

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