PhD Oral Exam - Christopher Williams, Electrical and Computer Engineering
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
In 2014, approximately eight trillion transistors were fabricated every second thanks to improvements in integration density and fabrication processes. This increase in integration and functionality has also brought about the possibility of system on chip (SoC) and high-performance computing (HPC). Electrical interconnects presently dominate the very-short reach interconnect landscape (< 5 cm) in these applications. This, however, is expected to change. These interconnects' downfall will be caused by their need for impedance matching, limited pin-density and frequency dependent loss leading to intersymbol interference. In an attempt to solve this, researchers have increasingly explored integrated silicon photonics as it is compatible with current CMOS processes and creates many possibilities for short-reach applications.
Many see optical interconnects as the high-speed link solution for applications ranging from intra-data center (~200 m) down to module or even chip scales (< 2 cm). The attractive properties of optical interconnects, such as low loss and multiplexing abilities, will enable such things as Exascale high-performance computers of the future (equal to 1x1018 calculations per second). In fact, forecasts predict that by 2025 photonics at the smallest levels of the interconnect hierarchy will be a reality. This thesis presents three novel research projects, which all work towards increasing robustness and cost-efficiency in short-reach optical links. It discusses three parts of the optical link: the interconnect, the receiver and the photodiode.
The first topic of this thesis is exploratory work on the use of an optical multiplexing technique, mode-division multiplexing (MDM), to carry multiple data lanes along with a forwarded clock for very short-reach applications. The second topic discussed is a novel reconfigurable CMOS receiver proposed as a method to map a clock signal to an interconnect lane in an MDM source-synchronous link with the lowest optical crosstalk. The receiver is designed as a method to make electronic chips that suit the needs of optical ones. By leveraging the more robust electronic integrated circuit, link solutions can be tuned to meet the needs of photonic chips on a die by die basis. The third topic of this thesis proposes a novel photodetector which uses photonic grating couplers to redirect vertical incident light to the horizontal direction. With this technique, the light is applied along the entire length of a p-n junction to improve the responsivity and speed of the device. Experimental results for this photodetector at 25 Gb/s are published, showing it to be the fastest all-silicon based photodetector reported in the literature at the time of publication.