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All-plasmonic Mach–Zehnder modulator enabling optical high-speed communication at the microscale


Optical modulators encode electrical signals to the optical domain and thus constitute a key element in high-capacity communication links1,2. Ideally, they should feature operation at the highest speed with the least power consumption on the smallest footprint, and at low cost3. Unfortunately, current technologies fall short of these criteria4. Recently, plasmonics has emerged as a solution offering compact and fast devices5,6,7. Yet, practical implementations have turned out to be rather elusive. Here, we introduce a 70 GHz all-plasmonic Mach–Zehnder modulator that fits into a silicon waveguide of 10 μm length. This dramatic reduction in size by more than two orders of magnitude compared with photonic Mach–Zehnder modulators results in a low energy consumption of 25 fJ per bit up to the highest speeds. The technology suggests a cheap co-integration with electronics.

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Figure 1: Plasmonic circuit realizing the Mach–Zehnder modulator (MZM).
Figure 2: Enhanced nonlinear interaction.
Figure 3: Electro-optical frequency response.
Figure 4: Experimental high-speed set-up.


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This work was carried out in the Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center as well as in the FIRST lab cleanroom facility of ETH Zurich. EU project NAVOLCHI (288869) and the National Science Foundation (grant DMR-1303080) are acknowledged for partial funding of this project.

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Authors and Affiliations



C.H. conceived the concept, designed and fabricated the modulator, designed and performed the experiments, analysed the data and wrote the paper. W.H. installed and optimized the poling process, fabricated the devices, designed and performed the experiments and evaluated the data. Y.F. conceived the concept, designed the fabrication process, fabricated the modulator and wrote the manuscript. J.N. conceived the concept, designed the modulator and wrote the manuscript. A.M. conceived the concept. D.L.E. and L.R.D. developed and synthesized the DLD-164 nonlinear chromophore. B.B., A.J. and D.H. performed the data transmission experiment. Y.S. performed the bandwidth characterization, retrieved the electrical properties and wrote the manuscript. U.K. and C.H. performed and evaluated the ellipsometry experiment. A.E., F.D. and L.J. provided support for the design of the modulator. M.K. developed the concept. C.H. and J.L. conceived the concept, designed the experiment and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to C. Haffner or J. Leuthold.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Haffner, C., Heni, W., Fedoryshyn, Y. et al. All-plasmonic Mach–Zehnder modulator enabling optical high-speed communication at the microscale. Nature Photon 9, 525–528 (2015).

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