OMI Conference: an international affair

CD players and DVDs have become consumer dream machines for high-quality personal entertainment. But both boxes illustrate an engineering feat that combines light-detecting electronics with optics so that imbedded laser light can be translated into bits of information to make the equipment work.

In high-tech, this hybrid is opto-electronic microsystems and measured in microns and nanometers. And these require other scientific feats altogether encompassing physics, chemistry, mathematics and all areas of engineering.

The OMI conference hosted by Carleton is an international gathering of industry and university researchers focused on how to package, assemble and fabricate the ever-shrinking in opto-electronic microsystems. This complex area is photonics where light waves are harnessed to deliver to voice, video and data. The interface between photonics and other technologies such as computer chips permit medical diagnostic tools and consumer products such as digital cameras.

“The technology works just great, right down to the chip level but when you try to use it in a real system, it has to be packaged so you can pick up the component, put in on a board and connect it with something else. That’s packaging and that’s the whole ball game,” said Langis Roy, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering.

His work deals with high-frequency electronics at the receiving end of the optical or light signals. “I don’t have a specific expertise with optical components but I know enough about them to work at that interface where we take the optical component and combine it with the electrical component. That’s where we need the inter-disciplinary approach, which my colleagues have and which Carleton is putting together.”

Industry and academic scientists want to reduce costs of optical modules. Rafi Koriat, President and CEO of Israeli-based Lambda Crossings Ltd., told the three-day conference that packaging alone contributes up to 80 per cent of their cost. Optical component makers, with support from academic institutions, will develop innovative approaches, new materials and even more clever integration of different technologies to lower these costs, he said.

Lambda’s market niche include smaller optical circuits for filters used to adjust the flow and type of light signals moving through optical fibres.

The conference was sponsored by the Centre for Microlectronics Assembly and Packaging, a university-industry consortium funded by the Ontario Challenge Fund. “The Challenge Fund finances graduate research at various institutions that will lead to product Alcatel (maybe even Sony) might someday use,” said Centre Executive Director Laura Turbini.

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