Research Discovery By Ethiopian Scientist At IBM

Above: Solomon Assefa (r) is among the IBM scientists who unveiled a significant step towards replacing electrical signals that communicate via copper wires between computer chips.

Source: IBM

Yorktown Heights, NY IBM (NYSE: IBM) scientists today unveiled a significant step towards replacing electrical signals that communicate via copper wires between computer chips with tiny silicon circuits that communicate using pulses of light. As reported in the recent issue of the scientific journal Nature, this is an important advancement in changing the way computer chips talk to each other.

The device, called a nanophotonic avalanche photodetector, is the fastest of its kind and could enable breakthroughs in energy-efficient computing that can have significant implications for the future of electronics.

The IBM device explores the “avalanche effect” in Germanium, a material currently used in production of microprocessor chips. Analogous to a snow avalanche on a steep mountain slope, an incoming light pulse initially frees just a few charge carriers which in turn free others until the original signal is amplified many times. Conventional avalanche photodetectors are not able to detect fast optical signals because the avalanche builds slowly.

“This invention brings the vision of on-chip optical interconnections much closer to reality,” said Dr. T.C. Chen, vice president, Science and Technology, IBM Research. “With optical communications embedded into the processor chips, the prospect of building power-efficient computer systems with performance at the Exaflop level might not be a very distant future.”

Video: View Animation

The avalanche photodetector demonstrated by IBM is the world’s fastest device of its kind. It can receive optical information signals at 40Gbps (billion bits per second) and simultaneously multiply them tenfold. Moreover, the device operates with just a 1.5V voltage supply, 20 times smaller than previous demonstrations. Thus many of these tiny communication devices could potentially be powered by just a small AA-size battery, while traditional avalanche photodetectors require 20-30V power supplies.

“This dramatic improvement in performance is the result of manipulating the optical and electrical properties at the scale of just a few tens of atoms to achieve performance well beyond accepted boundaries,” said Dr. Assefa, the lead author on the paper. “These tiny devices are capable of detecting very weak pulses of light and amplifying them with unprecedented bandwidth and minimal addition of unwanted noise.”

In IBM’s device, the avalanche multiplication takes place within just a few tens of nanometers (one-thousandths of a millimeter) and that happens very fast. The tiny size also means that multiplication noise is suppressed by 50% – 70% with respect to conventional avalanche photodetectors. The IBM device is made of Silicon and Germanium, the materials already widely used in production of microprocessor chips. Moreover it is made with standard processes used in chip manufacturing. Thus, thousands of these devices can be built side-by-side with silicon transistors for high-bandwidth on-chip optical communications.

The Avalanche Photodetector achievement, which is the last in a series of prior reports from IBM Research, is the last piece of the puzzle that completes the development of the “nanophotonics toolbox” of devices necessary to build the on-chip interconnects.
In December 2006, IBM scientists demonstrated silicon nanophotonic delay line that was used to buffer over a byte of information encoded in optical pulses – a requirement for building optical buffers for on-chip optical communications.

In December 2007, IBM scientists announced the development of an ultra-compact silicon electro-optic modulator, which converts electrical signals into the light pulses, a prerequisite for enabling on-chip optical communications.

In March 2008, IBM scientists announced the world’s tiniest nanophotonic switch for “directing traffic” in on-chip optical communications, ensuring that optical messages can be efficiently routed.

The report of this work, entitled “Reinventing Germanium Avalanche Photodetector for Nanophotonic On-chip Optical Interconnects,” by Solomon Assefa, Fengnian Xia, and Yurii Vlasov of IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. is published in the March 2010 issue of the scientific journal Nature.

IBM has a long history of pioneering advanced silicon technologies to help enhance performance, while reducing size and power consumption. Such advances include the development of the world’s first copper-based microprocessor; silicon-on-insulator (SOI), a technology that reduces power consumption and increases performance by helping insulate the millions of transistors on a chip; and strained silicon, a technology that “stretches” material inside the silicon decreasing the resistance and speeding the flow of electrons through transistors.

Further information can be found at the following link: http://www.research.ibm.com/photonics

20 Responses to “Research Discovery By Ethiopian Scientist At IBM”


  1. 1 Tiruneh Mar 8th, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    I am very proud! This is huge. Go Solomon!

  2. 2 Mulugeta Bezabh Mar 9th, 2010 at 9:23 am

    wow its good for our world especial for our motherland it shows we Ethiopians (are taking part) in changing our world!

    Mulugeta

  3. 3 Tiruneh Mar 9th, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Great job!

  4. 4 Debre Tabor Mar 10th, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Gobez Dr.Solomon Assefa et al. for your contribution to science and gobez to Tadias for their contribution to the community for bringing this article to us.

  5. 5 bk Mar 11th, 2010 at 11:33 am

    He makes me so proud. He is still very young and he has yet many more discoveries to make.

  6. 6 sandocan debebe Mar 13th, 2010 at 8:32 am

    I am realy proud of you.

  7. 7 Hannah S Mar 13th, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Dr. Solomon Assefa, all Ethiopians are very proud of your work and wish you all the best in your future endeavors. This news has inspired countless young people back home for sure.

  8. 8 lensa Mar 15th, 2010 at 1:30 am

    this is more than great. i am proud of u. this has a huge impact on Ethiopia and the world as a whole. we can also make a difference in changing the world. that what it is for me berta.

  9. 9 Yitbarek Mar 16th, 2010 at 8:06 am

    That is all great…we will come soon at the front…if all we strive in the area we are doing….Lets do our best for the revival of our mother land ETHIOPIA.we will see more….

  10. 10 yidenkachew jenberu Mar 17th, 2010 at 5:24 am

    This is the moment we were waiting for! Thanks a lot.

  11. 11 Munier Mar 26th, 2010 at 3:16 am

    That is the start of the race

  12. 12 Ermias(hackarada) Bayu Apr 2nd, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Hi there,

    I’m a computer science student from Ethiopia (Haramya University) and I just want to say that we all are proud of you .But I just wanted to mention one more thing about coming here for long or short-term and sharing what you’ve got and your experience to your fellow Ethiopian professionals and students who might one day be like u or who knows even better …

  13. 13 abdu yimam Apr 13th, 2010 at 2:20 am

    My view is the same as Ermias’.

  14. 14 Tadege Mihretu Apr 28th, 2010 at 8:16 am

    I adore Dr.Assefa, Solomon. Keep it up. You are an inspiration to the youths of Ethiopia to be like you!

    Yes in deed he did it!
    I am proud of you!

  15. 15 Dr Adesuyi Ajayi Jun 20th, 2010 at 3:04 am

    Dr Assefa’s collaborative work with other scientists at IBM is another demonstration that it is not the lack of talent that keeps Africa backward technologically. Rather, it is the visionless leadership of African politicians that fails to add ‘the fuel of interest to the fire of genius” according to the immortal words of President Abe Lincoln.

    America remains the world greatest country because it is the magnet for the talented minds that provides and enables the manifestation of genius that otherwise might have been lost to the world. To Dr Assefa and IBM i say Bravo for moving forward the frontiers of Engineering science.

  16. 16 Almaz Abay Jun 30th, 2010 at 2:05 am

    Dr. Assefa’s you are so great. I am proud of you.

  17. 17 Dr Mesfin Tilaye Jan 3rd, 2011 at 8:20 am

    i am proud of the ethiopian hero bravo sol!

  18. 18 Abeba Tsegaye Jan 6th, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    I am so proud of u being Ethiopian

  19. 19 Amiralah N. Jul 18th, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Hi Dr Solomon Assefa,

    you did a great job! we are proud of you.

    thank you
    Amiralah,

    maryland, USA

  1. 1 Solomon Assefa: One of the 35 World’s Top Young Innovators at Tadias Magazine Pingback on Aug 23rd, 2011 at 5:07 pm
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