Erbium, Luminescence, Silica, Silicon compounds


It is widely accepted that the continued increase of processor performance requires at least partial replacement of electronic interconnects with their photonic counterparts. The implementation of optical interconnects requires the realization of a silicon-based light source, which is challenging task due to the low emission efficiency of silicon. One of the main approaches to address this challenge is the use of doping of silicon based matrices with optical centers, including erbium ions. Erbium ions incorporated in various hosts assume the trivalent state (Er3+) and demonstrate a transition at 1.54 μm, coinciding with optical transmission windows in both silicon and silica. Due to the low absorption cross-section and discrete energy levels of the Er3+ ion, indirect excitation is necessary. In late 90s it was demonstrated that the incorporation of excess silicon in erbium-doped silica results in strong erbium sensitization, leading to an increase of the effective absorption cross-section by orders of magnitude. The sensitization was considered to occur via silicon nanocrystals that formed at high annealing temperatures. While a large increase of the absorption cross-section was demonstrated, the incorporation of Si nanocrystals was found to result in a low concentration of excited erbium, as well as silicon related free-carrier absorption. The focus of this dissertation is the investigation of the nature of the sensitization mechanism of erbium in silicon-rich silica. The results presented in the dissertation demonstrate that erbium in silicon-rich silica is predominantly excited by silicon-excess-related luminescence centers, as opposed to the commonly considered silicon nanocrystals. This is a remarkable conclusion that changes the view on the exact origin of erbium sensitization, and that resolves several technical challenges that exist for nanocrystal-based sensitization. The work shows that the density of indirectly excited erbium ions is significantly larger in samples without silicon iii nanocrystals (annealed at T < 1000°C) as opposed to samples with silicon nanocrystals (annealed at T > 1000°C). The density of indirectly excited erbium ions, defining the maximum achievable gain, was demonstrated to be approximately excitation wavelength independent, while the effective erbium absorption cross-section was shown to significantly depend on the excitation wavelength. The excitation mechanism of erbium by luminescence centers was shown to be fast ( < 30 ns) and capable of erbium sensitization to different energy levels. This multilevel nature of erbium excitation was demonstrated to result in two different mechanisms of the excitation of the first excited state of erbium: fast ( < 30 ns) direct excitation by the luminescence centers, and slow ( > 2.3 μs) excitation due to the relaxation of erbium ions excited into higher energy levels to the first excited state. Based on photoluminescence studies conducted in the temperature range 15 - 300K it was shown that the relaxation efficiency of erbium from the second excited state to the first excited state (responsible for the slow excitation mechanism) is temperature independent and approaches unity. The relative stability of the optical properties demonstrated in the temperature range 20 - 200°C, implies that relatively stable optical gain can be achieved under realistic on-chip operating conditions. The optimum Si excess concentration corresponding to the highest density of sensitized Er3+ ions is shown to be relatively insensitive to the presence of Si nanocrystals and is ~ 14.5 at.% and ~ 11.5 at.% for samples without and with Si nanocrystals respectively. The presented results and conclusions have significant implications for silicon photonics and the industrial application of Er doped SiO2. The work shows that in order to sensitize erbium ions in silicon-rich silica there is no need for the presence of silicon nanocrystals, and consequently lower fabrication temperatures can be used. More importantly, the results strongly iv suggest that higher gain values can be acquired in samples annealed at lower temperature (without silicon nanocrystals) as compared to samples annealed at high temperatures (with silicon nanocrystals). In addition, the maximum gain is predicted to be relatively independent of excitation wavelength, significantly relaxing the requirements on the pump source. Based on the experimental results it is predicted that relatively stable performance of erbium-doped siliconrich silica is possible up to typical processor operating temperatures of ~ 80 - 90°C making it a viable material for on-chip devices. The results suggest that low temperature annealed erbiumdoped silicon-rich silica is a preferable material for on-chip photonic devices as compared with its high temperature annealed counterpart.


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Graduation Date





Kik, Pieter G.


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Optics and Photonics








Release Date

August 2010

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Optics and Photonics, Optics and Photonics -- Dissertations, Academic