Bidirectional Microwave-optical Transduction Based on Integration: Introductionby@transduction

Bidirectional Microwave-optical Transduction Based on Integration: Introduction

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Here, we present a compact microwave-optical transducer based on monolithic integration of piezoelectric actuators atop silicon nitride photonic circuits.
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This paper is available on arxiv under CC 4.0 license.


(1) Terence Blésin, Institute of Physics, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) & Center of Quantum Science and Engineering (EPFL);

(2) Wil Kao, Institute of Physics, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) & Center of Quantum Science and Engineering (EPFL);

(3) Anat Siddharth, Institute of Physics, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) & Center of Quantum Science and Engineering (EPFL);

(4) Alaina Attanasio, OxideMEMS lab, Purdue University;

(5) Hao Tian, OxideMEMS lab, Purdue University;

(6) Sunil A. Bhave, OxideMEMS lab, Purdue University;

(7) Tobias J. Kippenberg, Institute of Physics, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) & Center of Quantum Science and Engineering (EPFL).

Coherent interconversion between microwave and optical frequencies can serve as both classical and quantum interfaces for computing, communication, and sensing. Here, we present a compact microwave-optical transducer based on monolithic integration of piezoelectric actuators atop silicon nitride photonic circuits. Such an actuator directly couples microwave signals to a high-overtone bulk acoustic resonator defined by the suspended silica cladding of the optical waveguide core, which leads to enhanced electromechanical and optomechanical couplings. At room temperature, this triply resonant piezo-optomechanical transducer achieves an off-chip photon number conversion efficiency of 1.6 × 10−5 over a bandwidth of 25 MHz at an input pump power of 21 dBm. The approach is scalable in manufacturing and, unlike existing electro-optic transducers, does not rely on superconducting resonators. As the transduction process is bidirectional, we further demonstrate synthesis of microwave pulses from a purely optical input. Combined with the capability of leveraging multiple acoustic modes for transduction, the present platform offers prospects for building frequency-multiplexed qubit interconnects and for microwave photonics at large.


Modern data centers have seen rapidly increasing traffic that motivates an overhaul of existing network infrastructures. As optical fibers support nearly lossless transport and high bandwidths, twisted-pair copper deployment has shrunk in favor of optical interconnects. Energy-efficient optical transceivers [1] and optical network architectures [2] are being explored in parallel to accommodate emerging data- and resource-intensive applications. In an analogous fashion, processing quantum information in superconducting circuits and networking via photonic interconnects has been envisioned as an effective strategy to address the scalability challenges in advancing quantum technologies [3–5]. The scheme, featuring the full universal set of microwave quantum gates [6] with vanishing thermal occupancy and loss of the optical channels, calls for the development of microwaveoptical transducers to bridge the two energy scales that differ by more than four orders of magnitude. Aside from facilitating the networking of remote quantum processors, these transducers may enable fully optical control and readout of microwave qubits [7, 8]. The subsequent replacement of coaxial lines bridging room temperature and cryogenic environments by optical fibers is expected to significantly ease the space and heat load constraints in dilution refrigerators, opening up a path toward upscaling processor units housed in a single fridge.

Efficient frequency conversion requires a nonlinear interaction stronger than the coupling to loss channels. The highest conversion efficiency to date has been achieved using an electro-optomechanical approach [9]. There, a silicon nitride membrane interacts with an optical mode of a free-space Fabry-Pérot cavity via radiation pressure and simultaneously serves as the top plate of a capacitor, parametrically coupling the mechanics to the microwave resonator. By virtue of the high resonator quality factors and pump power handling capability, 47% of input photons can be interconverted between optical and microwave domains [10], approaching the 50% efficiency required for attaining finite quantum capacity [11]. This highly efficient transducer has enabled optical dispersive qubit readout with negligible excess backaction [12]. The low-frequency (MHz) mechanical intermediary nevertheless limits the transduction bandwidth and leads to appreciable added noise even at dilution refrigerator temperature. To address these drawbacks, piezo-optomechanical transducers based on optomechanical crystals (OMC) have been developed [13–22], where a tightly confined high-frequency (GHz) mechanical mode and a co-localized optical mode can interact at a vacuum optomechanical coupling rate g0 ∼ 2π × 500 kHz. The trade-off lies instead in the sophistication required for microwave-phonon wave matching that significantly increases design complexity, as well as thermo-optic instability that constrains the intra-cavity photon number. An on-chip efficiency of 5% has recently been reported on such a platform [20]. However, low thermal conductance of these suspended quasi-one-dimensional structures hinders correlated microwave-optical photon pair generation at a practical rate.

Cavity electro-optic modulators constitute a conceptually simpler approach where Pockels effect directly mediates microwave-optical interaction [23–25]. On-chip realizations employing planar superconducting microwave resonators, benefited from the deep sub-wavelength mode volume of the vacuum electric field, to reach single photon electro-optic coupling rates g0 ∼ 2π × 1 kHz [26– 29]. However, the material science of χ (2) crystals poses additional challenges. Photorefractive effects—observed, for instance, in LiNbO3 thin films [30]—hamper optical power handling, while piezoelectric loss and scattered optical photons degrade the quality factor of superconducting resonators [31, 32]. The difficulty of producing smooth sidewall surfaces in the workhorse Pockels material, LiNbO3 , through dry etching results in propagation losses an order of magnitude above the absorption limit [33]. As a result, the maximum on-chip efficiency achieved with integrated electro-optic transducers exceeds just 2% [26]. In the spirit of Ref. [9], a bulk transducer comprising a mm-size mechanically polished LiNbO3 whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonator coupled to a 3D superconducting microwave cavity has proved competitive, trading g0 for improved power handling and quality factors [34, 35]. Taking one step further with pulsed optical pumping, the system has demonstrated not only a hallmark 14.4% total efficiency but also electro-optic dynamical backaction [36, 37] and microwave-optical quadrature entanglement [38].

With the aforementioned design trade-offs in mind, we present a new piezo-optomechanical transducer based solely on wafer-scale, CMOS-compatible fabrication processes. We utilize a low-loss silicon nitride (Si3N4 ) photonic molecule, as well as multiple GHz high-overtone bulk acoustic resonances (HBAR) parametrically coupled to the optical modes. Endowed with power handling capabilities superior to existing integrated transducers, the device fits compactly within a 100 µm-by-50 µm footprint, in contrast to state-of-the-art bulk designs [10, 36]. In addition, the transduction HBAR modes are more readily coupled to the microwave signal, unlike OMC transducers. We demonstrate bidirectional microwave-optical transduction with a bandwidth of 25 MHz and total efficiency up to 1.6 × 10−5 by pumping with 21 dBm of off-chip optical power in continuous-wave (CW) operation. The device is also characterized with a pulsed optical pump, which constitutes the first step toward optical control and readout of qubits, as well as heralded microwave-optical photon pair generation. The simple design, ease of fabrication, robust operation, and compact form factor anticipate wide applicability in quantum technologies and microwave photonics at large.