Innovative SiPh Chip: Nanoscale Light Computing Breakthrough

Imagine a world where AI computations are not bound by the limitations of traditional power sources, that is, electricity but by the power of light waves. This is precisely the vision that researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have brought to life with their innovative chip design.

This innovation will not only enable the chip to fast-track the processing speed of computers but it will also lessen their energy consumption.

Innovative SiPh Chip

The latest silicon-photonic (SiPh) chip combines the innovative work of the esteemed Benjamin Franklin Medal Laureate and H. Nedwill Ramsey Professor, Nader Engheta. When it comes to experimenting with materials, Engheta works at the smallest scale to perform mathematical calculations using light. Now, imagine how fast that communication could be!

This chip makes use of silicon, which is not just cost-effective but also widely used in mass-producing computer chips.

Light-Based Computing Breakthrough

Exploring how light waves interact with matter offers a promising pathway for creating computers that surpass the constraints of current chips. Although, these chips are essentially built on principles dating back to the early days of the computing revolution in the 1960s.

Engheta’s team collaborated with Firooz Aflatouni, an Associate Professor in Electrical and Systems Engineering. Their aim was to create a platform capable of executing vector-matrix multiplication.

In the world of neural networks, the vector-matrix multiplication process forms the foundation stones of modern AI. This includes multiplying a vector by a matrix, which is a fundamental mathematical procedure employed in numerous AI applications. For instance, in a neural network, this operation helps in transforming input data through layers of interconnected nodes to produce meaningful outputs.

The concept is to create a silicon wafer with varying heights, particularly by thinning certain regions to about 150 nanometers. These height variations will serve as a means to manipulate the way light travels through the chip. By introducing subtle bumps, the chip can scatter light in specific patterns. This capability allows the chip to perform mathematical computations at lightning-fast speeds, leveraging the swift propagation of light.

Faster, Energy-Efficient, and Virtually Unhackable

Aflatouni notes that because of limitations set by the commercial foundry responsible for manufacturing the chips, this design is already primed for commercial use. And the exciting part? It could even be tweaked to fit into graphics processing units (GPUs)! This is super important because GPUs are in crazy high demand right now, with everyone diving into creating cool new AI systems.

On top of being faster and more energy-efficient, Engheta and Aflatouni’s chip brings some privacy perks too. Since it can handle multiple computations at once, there’s no requirement to store sensitive data in a computer’s memory while it’s working. This makes a future computer powered by this tech nearly impossible to hack. “You can’t hack into memory that doesn’t even exist to access your info,” explains Aflatouni.


The results show a future where conventional electricity-dependent systems will be replaced by the brilliance of light waves. And the implications are profound from advancing research in fields like healthcare and finance to powering the next generation of smart devices, the possibilities are endless.

The University of Pennsylvania’s pioneering work reminds us that when it comes to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, thinking outside the box—or in this case, outside the socket—can lead to extraordinary results.

Via: The University of Pennsylvania

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