Monday, May 14, 2012

Transistor Moment

Flying back home from San Jose I couldn't help wonder with excitement if our field is on the verge of a "transistor moment." Maybe it was just my CLEO conference euphoria coupled with high-end caffeine from Cafe Frascati still in my system. However, I feel like something big is going to happen, particularly in the field of photonic circuits and nanophotonics.

 The explosion of work in this subarea is impressive and CLEO hosted a number of talks from the leaders and pioneers in this field. You can still watch a handful of these on the CLEO On Demand video  such as Yurii Valsov's plenary talk on fundamentals and applications of silicon nanophotonics, Larry Coldren's tutorial, CWK1.1, on single-chip transmitters and receivers, and Dave Welch's tutorial, JM4.I.1 on semiconductor photonic integrated circuits, just to name a few. Cutting edge science is interfacing with better fabrication processes- repeatability and low cost. At the poster session on Wednesday night it seemed every group was using some kind of micro ring resonator. Simple photonic circuits are becoming standard. Will our children have the nanophotonic equivalent of a Heathkit radio- something like "My first Fab." It seems a sure thing to me that my daughters will be using optical/electrical hybrid computers in their lifetime. And it seems even more certain to me that nanophotonics is the future of our field.

However, will something even bigger, more profound, and unexpected happen like when Walter Brattain dumped his amplifier experiment in a thermos of water in 1947 to successfully demonstrate electrical gain of what was to become the transistor? The same little amplifier that gave birth to a small startup company named Sony and then later to Texas Instrument, Intel and the entire business of integrated circuits and computation as we know it. The transistor was at first a "mere" amplifier. Later it became the foundation for all computer logic and a new era of technology. I wonder what is within our grasp that we don't realize.

Yurii Vlasov used imagery from the Wizard of Oz in his plenary talk of a road to follow to the Emerald City (our goals of nanophotonics and computation and the windy road we will take). However, I wonder what ruby slippers we are wearing right now. What  "transistor potential" is waiting to be unlocked. It's a good time to be in the field of photonics. We will be the leaders of the new information age and the technology that drives and supports it.

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