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Miniscule devisive shoes

(published 16 March 2011)

About time.

I left the house at dawn this morning, at that very moment of its occurrence. The blackbirds were just starting their chorale and the sky was lightening. As I travelled to the station the mist rested in the valleys, and hung in the trees on the hillsides; approaching the turning, a long view through to a low east horizon showed a disc of deep luminous red hanging within the grey fog, the sun making its local debut for the day, stunning. Even as I saw it the news on the car radio reported of the evacuation of the Fukushima Daiichi power station because of a “spike of radioactivity” following explosions and a fire. On hearing the news I am stupefied in sadness and horror – what we do to ourselves, what we do to this earth.

As I write I am en route back up to the lab, a two day stint of residing. The train creaks and trembles as it rattles along the warming tracks, the day outside increasingly sunny, the warmth and light burning off the vestiges of water vapour, giving the day a bright golden clarity. I have decided that the time, being half way gone, is apposite for revisiting the copy of nature photonics that Graham handed me that first trip to the University (the Silicon Photonics special, August 2010, volume 4, number 8). 

[Low tide at St Germans as we pass, the muddy slivers of estuary snaking between the breast-like hummocky hills.] 

I can still remember my first naive fumblings between its sheets, sitting in the doctor’s surgery waiting room, trying to make some sense of it and recording my wonder at the words. I wonder how the experience of the time spent so far amidst the silicon photonicists will have affected my abilities in that realm.

Even as I open the covers I can’t help the smile as I read the words “Towards fabless silicon photonics” – doesn’t it sound like they’re trying to take the fun out of it? and I’m afraid that “Mid infra-red photonics in silicon and germanium” just makes me think of the silicon geranium photos I have taken. But enough mucking around, time to redive into Reed, Mashanovich, Gardes and Thompson, and their small world of silicon optical modulators (pages 518 to 526).

[Unbelievably low tide on the Plym as we pass, the sunshiny mudflat thronging with birds; it is the equinox this weekend, so I guess we’re due big springs soon, but the moon last night was a bright and clear more-than-semicircle, so I should think it’s pretty much fully neaps. Perhaps we are passing at the moment of its lowest ebb.]

In the review abstract they report that “Modulators have been improved dramatically in recent years, with a notable increase in bandwidth from the megahertz to the multigigahertz regime in just over half a decade.”, which I think sounds pretty amazing when you think that such a shift must be supported by actual physical technological and fabrication developments (this latter the word responsible for the dour, truncated fab in fabless), as well as the conceptual and ideological drivers involved.

[I just went and squeezed in next to a guy facing the right way in order to take my customary photograph of the “Teignmouth Electron” as we passed (a long series of muzzy and largely imperceptible images of a (currently rather rapidly and man-assistedly) decaying boat on the banks of the Teign). This “Teigmouth Electron” is a boat that is reminiscent to me of the real Teigmouth Electron, which is apparently slowly dissolving on a Caribbean beach, and to which I was introduced by a piece of Art made by Tacita Dean. In the book about it she tells the story of Donald Crowhurst who went out alone onto the watery surface of this world, on his final earthly journey, in the little vessel, on a partially-faked round the world race. It is a haunting tale that is beautifully told by her, delving into the realms of hope and expectation and time. An inspiring work. Just before he got off at Exeter the man came to thank me - he’d looked it up on the internet via his phone and thought it was a great picture (I recommended he look up the book and read the words...).  Very satisfying to have passed on the awareness of something wonderful, especially so geographically close to the location of the doppelganger craft.]

Back in the journal I grasp what the abstract is trying to tell me, although there are still some words that are yet mysterious. I am not clear as to what the modulation depth refers (I assume it is more than simply a physical depth in the wafer), and do not know how the energy requirement per bit can be altered, although with such increases in numbers of bits presumably it is something of a major consideration. As for the size of the device footprint, I do not know it but assume, given the scales at which they are working, that it must be very tiny, and very fast; miniscule devisive running shoes?

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