Silicon-chip-based ultrafast optical oscilloscope

Article metrics


With the realization of faster telecommunication data rates and an expanding interest in ultrafast chemical and physical phenomena, it has become important to develop techniques that enable simple measurements of optical waveforms with subpicosecond resolution1. State-of-the-art oscilloscopes with high-speed photodetectors provide single-shot waveform measurement with 30-ps resolution. Although multiple-shot sampling techniques can achieve few-picosecond resolution, single-shot measurements are necessary to analyse events that are rapidly varying in time, asynchronous, or may occur only once. Further improvements in single-shot resolution are challenging, owing to microelectronic bandwidth limitations. To overcome these limitations, researchers have looked towards all-optical techniques because of the large processing bandwidths that photonics allow. This has generated an explosion of interest in the integration of photonics on standard electronics platforms, which has spawned the field of silicon photonics2 and promises to enable the next generation of computer processing units and advances in high-bandwidth communications. For the success of silicon photonics in these areas, on-chip optical signal-processing for optical performance monitoring will prove critical. Beyond next-generation communications, silicon-compatible ultrafast metrology would be of great utility to many fundamental research fields, as evident from the scientific impact that ultrafast measurement techniques continue to make3,4,5. Here, using time-to-frequency conversion6 via the nonlinear process of four-wave mixing on a silicon chip, we demonstrate a waveform measurement technology within a silicon-photonic platform. We measure optical waveforms with 220-fs resolution over lengths greater than 100 ps, which represent the largest record-length-to-resolution ratio (>450) of any single-shot-capable picosecond waveform measurement technique6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16. Our implementation allows for single-shot measurements and uses only highly developed electronic and optical materials of complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS)-compatible silicon-on-insulator technology and single-mode optical fibre. The mature silicon-on-insulator platform and the ability to integrate electronics with these CMOS-compatible photonics offer great promise to extend this technology into commonplace bench-top and chip-scale instruments.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: The silicon-based ultrafast optical oscilloscope.
Figure 2: Characterization of the record length and resolution of the ultrafast oscilloscope.
Figure 3: Comparison of measurements using the ultrafast oscilloscope and a cross-correlator.


  1. 1

    Dorrer, C. High-speed measurements for optical telecommunication systems. IEEE Select. Topics Quant. Electron. 12, 843–858 (2006)

  2. 2

    Jalali, B. Can silicon change photonics? Phys. Status Solidi 205, 213–224 (2008)

  3. 3

    Dudley, J. M., Finot, C., Richardson, D. J. & Millot, G. Self-similarity in ultrafast nonlinear optics. Nature Phys. 3, 597–603 (2007)

  4. 4

    Solli, D. R., Ropers, C., Koonath, P. & Jalali, B. Optical rogue waves. Nature 450, 1054–1057 (2007)

  5. 5

    Solli, D. R., Chou, J. & Jalali, B. Amplified wavelength-time transformation for real-time spectroscopy. Nature Photon. 2, 48–51 (2008)

  6. 6

    Kauffman, M. T., Banyal, W. C., Godil, A. A. & Bloom, D. M. Time-to-frequency converter for measuring picosecond optical pulses. Appl. Phys. Lett. 64, 270–272 (1994)

  7. 7

    Bennett, C. V., Scott, R. P. & Kolner, B. H. Temporal magnification and reversal of 100 Gb/s optical data with an upconversion time microscope. Appl. Phys. Lett. 65, 2513–2515 (1994)

  8. 8

    Bennett, C. V. & Kolner, B. H. Upconversion time microscope demonstrating 103× magnification of femtosecond waveforms. Opt. Lett. 24, 783–785 (1999)

  9. 9

    Mouradian, L. K., Louradour, F., Messager, V., Barthelemy, A. & Froehly, C. Spectro-temporal imaging of femtosecond events. IEEE J. Quant. Electron. 36, 795–801 (2000)

  10. 10

    Azana, J., Berger, N. K., Levit, B. & Fischer, B. Spectral Fraunhofer regime: Time-to-frequency conversion by the action of a single time lens on an optical pulse. Appl. Opt. 43, 483–490 (2004)

  11. 11

    Fernandez-Pousa, C. R. Temporal resolution limits of time-to-frequency transformations. Opt. Lett. 31, 3049–3051 (2006)

  12. 12

    Bennett, C. V., Moran, B. D., Langrock, C., Fejer, M. M. & Ibsen, M. 640 GHz real time recording using temporal imaging. In Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics [CD] paper CtuA6 (OSA Technical Digest Series, Optical Society of America, 2008)

  13. 13

    Kan'an, A. M. & Weiner, A. M. Efficient time-to-space conversion of femtosecond optical pulses. J. Opt. Soc. Am. B 15, 1242–1245 (1998)

  14. 14

    Oba, K., Sun, P. C., Mazurenko, Y. T. & Fainman, Y. Femtosecond single-shot correlation system: A time-domain approach. Appl. Opt. 38, 3810–3817 (1999)

  15. 15

    Chou, J., Boyraz, O. & Jalali, B. Femtosecond real-time single-shot digitizer. Appl. Phys. Lett. 91, 161105 (2007)

  16. 16

    Bromage, J., Dorrer, C., Begishev, I. A., Usechak, N. G. & Zuegel, J. D. Highly sensitive, single-shot characterization for pulse widths from 0.4 to 85 ps using electro-optic shearing interferometry. Opt. Lett. 31, 3523–3525 (2006)

  17. 17

    Kane, D. J. & Trebino, R. Single-shot measurement of the intensity and phase of an arbitrary ultrashort pulse by using frequency-resolved optical gating. Opt. Lett. 18, 823–825 (1993)

  18. 18

    Dorrer, C. et al. Single-shot real-time characterization of chirped-pulse amplification systems by spectral phase interferometry for direct electric-field reconstruction. Opt. Lett. 24, 1644–1646 (1999)

  19. 19

    Akhmanov, S. A., Vysloukh, V. A. & Chirkin, A. S. Self-action of wave packets in a nonlinear medium and femtosecond laser pulse generation. Sov. Phys. Usp. 29, 642–677 (1986)

  20. 20

    Kolner, B. H. Space-time duality and the theory of temporal imaging. IEEE J. Quant. Electron. 30, 1951–1963 (1994)

  21. 21

    Goodman, J. W. Introduction to Fourier Optics (McGraw-Hill, 1968)

  22. 22

    Bennett, C. V. & Kolner, B. H. Principles of parametric temporal imaging—Part I: System configurations. IEEE J. Quant. Electron. 36, 430–437 (2000)

  23. 23

    Dulkeith, E., Xia, F., Schares, L., Green, W. M. J. & Vlasov, Y. A. Group index and group velocity dispersion in silicon-on-insulator photonic wires. Opt. Express 14, 3853–3863 (2006)

  24. 24

    Turner, A. C. et al. Tailored anomalous group-velocity dispersion in silicon channel waveguides. Opt. Express 14, 4357–4362 (2006)

  25. 25

    Foster, M. A. et al. Broad-band optical parametric gain on a silicon photonic chip. Nature 441, 960–963 (2006)

  26. 26

    Lin, Q., Zhang, J., Fauchet, P. M. & Agrawal, G. P. Ultrabroadband parametric generation and wavelength conversion in silicon waveguides. Opt. Express 14, 4786–4799 (2006)

  27. 27

    Foster, M. A., Turner, A. C., Salem, R., Lipson, M. & Gaeta, A. L. Broad-band continuous-wave parametric wavelength conversion in silicon nanowaveguides. Opt. Express 15, 12949–12958 (2007)

  28. 28

    van Howe, J., Lee, J. H. & Xu, C. Generation of 3.5 nJ femtosecond pulses from a continuous-wave laser without mode locking. Opt. Lett. 32, 1408–1410 (2007)

  29. 29

    Koch, B. R., Fang, A. W., Cohen, O. & Bowers, J. E. Mode-locked silicon evanescent lasers. Opt. Express 15, 11225–11233 (2007)

  30. 30

    Cheben, P. et al. A high-resolution silicon-on-insulator arrayed waveguide grating microspectrometer with submicrometer aperture waveguides. Opt. Express 15, 2299–2306 (2007)

Download references


This work was supported by DARPA through the optical arbitrary waveform generation programme and by the Center for Nanoscale Systems, supported by the NSF and the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research.

Author information

Correspondence to Alexander L. Gaeta.

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Foster, M., Salem, R., Geraghty, D. et al. Silicon-chip-based ultrafast optical oscilloscope. Nature 456, 81–84 (2008) doi:10.1038/nature07430

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.