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Aplications in photonics

To cite this article use:  Amaya, F. Aplications in photonics. J. Nano Sc. Tech, 3(2015)77-79

Opportunities for industry and academy in Colombia

Ferney O. Amaya  

GIDATI, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Medellín, Colombia

E-mail: ferney.amaya@upb.edu.co

Photonics, as a science, has been developing new knowledge and technology with great impact in order to benefit human beings. This year was proclaimed by the United Nations as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015). Under this context, it is important to review the impact of the photonics, identifying opportunities to develop application from the academy to the industry and produce technological products from our region to the world.

Photonics integrates knowledge from optics, electronic engineering and   semiconductor technology. The term Photonics was coined in 1967 by Pierre Aigrain, a French scientist. In his words “…Photonics encompasses the generation of light, the detection of light, the management of light through guidance, manipulation, and amplification, and most importantly, its utilization for the benefit of mankind”.

The global market of the photonics,  is estimated to be €615 billion by 2020, with a growth rate of 105% since 2013. In Europe, the market of   photonics industry employs about 290.000 people directly, affecting the global European economy between 20% and 30% [1].

Since the invention of laser in 1960, photonics technology has been supporting scientific discoveries such as the origin of our universe and the measurement of the distance between the earth and the moon [2].

On the other hand, Photonics has influence on many industry fields: low cost and noninvasive health monitoring, high efficiency on displaying, alternative energy generation by solar cells and accurate manufacturing. Let us consider these examples in which photonics optimize processes. In health monitoring, photonics offers high resolution to analyze chemical and molecular composition of cells and tissues, to detect disease states such as cancer.

One of the displaying innovations allows to reduce the size of the cameras, giving the chance to include a camera in each portable device. Another one,  is the Organic Light Emitting Devices (OLEDs). This technology gives flexibility and thinness to displays with high power efficiency, extending the life of batteries in mobile devices [3].

Photonics also has solutions for alternative energy generation with materials for solar cells, offering efficiency values up to 43.5% [2].

In the manufacturing industry the main photonic component is the laser. It is used to drill very small holes and cut different types of material. The laser is used for manufacturing in the aerospace and automotive industry, healthcare to build implants and prosthetics, electronic industry for drilling and cutting printed circuit boards; and in photovoltaics to cut solar cells.

From the broad range of applications, this paper focused on high speed communications and photonic sensing, with great potential to generate the industry of photonics in Colombia. The key technologies to develop these application areas are: photonic integrated circuits, free space optics (FSO) and photonic sensors. The aim of this paper is to motivate the discovery of opportunities to generate technological products in Colombia based on photonics.

Key technologies for the development of the photonics

There are three key technologies to initiate the photonic industry in Colombia: photonic integrated circuits (PIC), free space optics (FSO) and photonic sensors. A brief description of each technology is presented the next lines.

Photonic integrated circuits

Whereas in the twentieth century the integrated circuit technology was one of the greatest technological innovations, the photonic integrated circuit (PIC) will play an important role in the technological innovations of this century. Although PIC is mainly studied to be applied in the ICT (Information and Communication Technology) industry, it may also be applied to other areas including consumer electronics, bio-sensing, avionics and automotive [4].

PIC integrates in a single device: lasers, passive and active components, photodetectors and optical amplifiers. The waveguides interconnect the different components in a PIC, but also the waveguide may be used to build waveguide based devices, with applications in optical communications, chemical and biology detection.

A PIC can be hybrid or monolithic [5]. A hybrid PIC integrates multiple optical end electronic components with different materials into a single package. Practical hybrid PICs integrate up to four optical components, due to the difficulty to working with different materials [5]. On the other hand, a monolithic PIC has a unique substrate, providing the maximum possible reduction in space and power consumption per device. Today, monolithic components are built using materials such as Indium Phosphide (InP) or Silicon-on-Insulator (SOI).

PIC technology is the response to the requirements of high capacity with low power consumption, and low space in the ICT industry. In the case of data centers, it is expected that they will process more than a half of all the information of Internet by 2017 [6], requiring exascale (1018 operations per second) systems by 2022, with around 100.000 nodes, power consumption near to 20 MW [7] and requirements in bit rates up to 80 and 780 Tb/s [8].

Free space optics

FSO uses light to transport information through   free space. FSO is not suitable for some terrestrial applications due to the dependence on weather and the need of line-of-sight. However, there exist commercial solutions using FSO to communicate buildings inside cities with transmitters/receivers located at the top of the buildings. This technique is relevant today to communicate satellites in orbit and for communications between the earth and an object outside the atmosphere. The European Space Agency (ESA) established a communication link between the earth and a satellite, a link with 400.000 km, obtaining 80 Mb/s, allowing lower cost and lower height compared with a wireless communication transmission [9].

Photonic sensors

There are many photonic components that act as a sensor. However,  the use of optical fiber to interconnect different sensors in a photonic sensor network is common. The sensor modifies a property of  light in response to an external physical, chemical or biological stimulus. Photonic sensing technology offers the possibility to sense a broad range of physical variables with high accuracy and reliability, including: pressure, mechanical stress, displacement, and temperature. An advantage of photonic sensors is the immunity to electromagnetic interference. A photonic sensor is safe, and it can be used in the most hazardous explosive environments.

Key applications of the photonics

The most relevant areas of application of photonics with great impact in our region are: communication and photonic sensor networks.


The main component in the optical communication is the optical fiber, demonstrated as a communication media at 1966 by Charles Kao, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for this innovation at 2009.

The optical in communication is not evident in our lives, although every moment, when we communicate through internet, we are making use of high capacity optical fiber links. Optical fiber communication is responsible for  the great growth in capacity and coverage of the internet. The optical fiber communicates continents, countries and cities, and in the short term it will connect homes and devices inside homes. There are over 1 billion kilometers of fiber deployed worldwide, providing transmission bit rates up to 10 Tb/s in commercial systems.

Two important technologies of the photonics to be applied in the ICT industry are: photonic integrated circuits and FSO, in response to the requirements of high capacity with low power consumption in future cities.


Fibre optic strands. BigRiz  CC BY-SA 3.0

Photonic sensor networks

A photonic sensor network generally connects photonic sensors to the same optical fiber for remote and distributed sensing. This characteristic is important in health structural monitoring, environmental monitoring, risk assessment and perimeter intrusion detection. However, one of the main opportunities of application of photonic sensor networks is in smart cities, to give intelligence to transportation, health, industrial and educational processes in a city, allowing citizens a fair use of the resources of the city.

Opportunities in Colombia

Colombia has the potential to create a photonics industry in PIC and photonic sensor networks.

For the ICT industry the main goal is to increase the capacity and to reduce energy consumption. There are three work lines to innovate in PIC technology: waveguides of micro-metric and nano-metric dimensions, devices based on waveguides, and the processing of optical signals. To work in these lines a computer and a simulation tool is required. The capacity to test the fabricated PICs may be acquired jointly between several institutions of the region with similar purposes.

Two specific examples that show the potential to work with PIC technology are: a spiral optical waveguide and complex processing signal algorithms for high speed communication.

A spiral wavelength was designed and analyzed to be used in a PIC component reducing the physical occupied space. In this case, a strip waveguide was simulated to propagate an optical signal in the C band. The bend radius and the spacing between the arms of the spiral were analyzed to obtain the minimum physical space, considering the bending loss and the coupling loss. The simulation tools were BeamProp from R-Soft and Comsol. With an initial radius of 40 μm and a separation of 1.5 μm, it was possible to reduce 50 cm of waveguide up to 0,0970 cm2. The results are presented in Table 1 [10].

Maximun radius

Total area

Bend losses, TE mode

Coupling loss, TE mode

485 mm

0.0970 cm2

0.007 dB

0.05 dB

Table I. Simulation results, strip waveguide of silice in the C band

The results may be employed to design a PIC with different waveguide lengths; predicting the area and losses of the component in the PIC.

Although wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) satisfies the capacity requirements of optical links up to 100 Gb/s, the increase of capacity towards 1 Tb/s, considering a smooth migration path, requires innovative solutions of optical processing such as: complex modulating and coding formats, compensation techniques to mitigate the effect of propagation through the optical channel and advanced multiplexing techniques.


[1]  European Technology Platform Photonics21, “Towards 2020 – Photonics Driving Economic Growth in Europe,” European Technology Platform Photonics21, Brussels, 2013.

[2]  Willner, A.,  Byer, R., Chang-Hasnain, C.,   Forrest, S., Kressel, H.,   Kogelnik, H.,  Tearney, G.,   Townes C.  and  Zervas, M.  Optics and Photonics: Key Enabling Technologies,  Proceedings of the IEEE  100,  1604-1643 (2012).

[3]  Kunic, K.  and  Sego, Z.  OLED technology and displays  in ELMAR, 2012 Proceedings  (2012).

[4]  Pozo, P. H.   Application Specific Photonic Integrated Circuits and the Sensing Industry  in ICTON  (2013).

[5]  Infinera, “Photonic Integrated Circuits A Technology and Application Primer”.

[6]  Cisco, “The Zettabyte Era—Trends and Analysis,” Cisco  (2013).

[7]  Beausoleil, R.,   McLaren, M.  and  Jouppi, N.  Photonic Architectures for High-Performance Data Center  IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Quantum Electronics 17, no. 2, (2013).

[8]  Heck, M. J. R.,  Chen, H.-W.,  Fang, A.,   Koch, B.,   Liang, B.,   Park, H.,  Sysak, M.  and  Bowers, J.  Hybrid Silicon Photonics for Optical Interconnects  IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Quantum Electronics  17,  333-346  (2011).

[9]  Agency, E. S.   A world first : data transmission between european satellites using laser light  22, Noviembre (2001). [Online]. Available: http://www.esa.int/. [Accessed 15 Enero 2015].

[10]  Córdoba-Ramírez, J., Hernandez-Figueroa, H. E.,  Amaya-Fernández, F.,  Marconi J.D. and  Fragnito, H.L.  Analysis of the light coupling between nano-waveguides made of tellurite glasses  in Integrated Optics: Devices, Materials, and Technologies XVII  (2013).

[11] Serpa-Imbett,  C.M.,  Marín-Alfonso, J.,  Gómez-Santamaría, C.,  Betancur-Agudelo L. and  Amaya-Fernández,  F.  Performance comparison of a fiber optic communication system based on optical OFDM and an optical OFDM-MIMO with Alamouti code by using numerical simulations   in nternational Conference on Optical Instruments and Technology: Optoelectronic Devices and Optical Signal Processing, Beijing   (2013).

[12]  M. A. U. E. P. M. P. M. I. O. a. I. T. M. J. Estarán,  Quad-Polarization Transmission for High-Capacity IM/DD Links  in ECOC 2014, Cannes – France (2014).

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