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Intel Makes a (Better) Silicon Laser

This one can operate continuously, allowing for practical use

2 min read

18 February 2005--Scientists at Intel Corp., in Santa Clara, Calif., disclosed on 16 February that they have built a silicon laser that goes beyond their effort of a month ago by operating continuously, a prerequisite for carrying digital information. The discovery could allow the integration of electronics and optics in silicon chips rather than in exotic-semiconductor chips, which are much more expensive to make. That way, PCs and even the chips inside them could converse over fiber-optic connections boasting bandwidths now seen only in long-haul telecommunications networks.

Intel found a way to overcome silicon's uncooperative nature. Many other materials respond to an intense light by emitting photons, which is the first step in the lasing process. Silicon, however, also produces stray electrons, which absorb the photons, quenching the laser. The problem is called two-photon absorption, because it takes collisions from two separate photons to knock an electron loose.

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The X-Ray Tech That Reveals Chip Designs

No trade secret or hardware trojan can hide from ptychographic X-ray laminography

10 min read
Overlapping circles on a yellow background show a computer-generated surface textured in seemingly random patterns of copper extends into the distance at right.

X-ray–based techniques can reconstruct the interconnects in a chip layer by layer [above] and in 3D [left] without destroying it.

SLS-USC Chip-Scan team

When you’re baking a cake, it’s hard to know when the inside is in the state you want it to be. The same is true—with much higher stakes—for microelectronic chips: How can engineers confirm that what’s inside has truly met the intent of the designers? How can a semiconductor design company tell whether its intellectual property was stolen? Much more worrisome, how can anyone be sure a kill switch or some other hardware trojan hasn’t been secretly inserted?

Today, that probing is done by grinding away each of the chip’s many layers and inspecting them using an electron microscope. It’s slow going and, of course, destructive, making this approach hardly satisfactory for anybody.

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