Submicron optical waveguides and microring resonators fabricated by selective oxidation of tantalum

Article (PDF Available)inOptics Express 21(6):6967-72 · March 2013with21 Reads
DOI: 10.1364/OE.21.006967 · Source: PubMed
  • 21.88 · Partow Technologies LLC
  • 15.71 · University of Central Florida
  • 18.01 · Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management Sciences
  • 32.35 · University of Central Florida
Abstract
Submicron tantalum pentoxide ridge and channel optical waveguides and microring resonators are demonstrated on silicon substrates by selective oxidation of the refractory metal, tantalum. The novel method eliminates the surface roughness problem normally introduced during dry etching of waveguide sidewalls and also simplifies fabrication of directional couplers. It is shown that the measured propagation loss is independent of the waveguide structure and thereby limited by the material loss of tantalum pentoxide in waveguides core regions. The achieved microring resonators have cross-sectional dimensions of ~600 nm × ~500 nm, diameters as small as 80 µm with a quality, Q, factor of 4.5 × 10<sup>4</sup>, and a finesse of 120.

Figures

Submicron optical waveguides and microring
resonators fabricated by selective oxidation of
tantalum
Payam Rabiei,
1,*
Jichi Ma,
1
Saeed Khan,
1,2
Jeff Chiles,
1
and Sasan Fathpour
1,2
1
CREOL, The College of Optics and Photonics, University of Central Florida, USA
2
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Central Florida, Bldg. 53, 4000 Central Florida
Blvd., Orlando, FL 32816, USA
*
pr@partow-tech.com
Abstract: Submicron tantalum pentoxide ridge and channel optical
waveguides and microring resonators are demonstrated on silicon substrates
by selective oxidation of the refractory metal, tantalum. The novel method
eliminates the surface roughness problem normally introduced during dry
etching of waveguide sidewalls and also simplifies fabrication of directional
couplers. It is shown that the measured propagation loss is independent of
the waveguide structure and thereby limited by the material loss of tantalum
pentoxide in waveguides core regions. The achieved microring resonators
have cross-sectional dimensions of ~600 nm × ~500 nm, diameters as small
as 80 µm with a quality, Q, factor of 4.5 × 10
4
, and a finesse of 120.
©2013 Optical Society of America
OCIS codes: (130.0130) Integrated optics; (230.4000) Microstructure fabrication; (230.5750)
Resonators; (230.7370) Waveguides.
References and links
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range,” Opt. Lett. 22(16), 1244–1246 (1997).
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applications,” J. Lightwave Technol. 23(3), 1295–1301 (2005).
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Received 16 Jan 2013; revised 25 Feb 2013; accepted 28 Feb 2013; published 13 Mar 2013
(C) 2013 OSA
25 March 2013 / Vol. 21, No. 6 / OPTICS EXPRESS 6967
17. H. Takahashi, S. Suzuki, and I. Nishi, “Wavelength multiplexer based on SiO
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1. Introduction
Integrated optical devices, based on microfabrication techniques, have been pursued for over
four decades [1–3]. High-index-contrast waveguides, on a range of material systems [4–7],
have been employed for achieving ultracompact and novel integrated photonic devices such
as microring resonators and efficient nonlinear optical devices. Wide transparency range, low
insertion loss and high nonlinear optical coefficients are important factors for an integrated
optical platform.
Generally, integrated optical device technologies have been suffering from two major
problems. First, etching processes that are typically used to define the waveguide ridges
introduce sidewall roughness, from which guided light is scattered out of waveguides and the
propagation loss can be significantly increased [8]. Second, achieving directional couplers,
which are needed as part of many devices, require submicron gaps between waveguides.
Achieving this is either very difficult or very expensive in practice. These problems have not
been fully addressed and hence integrated optical devices with costs comparable to
inexpensive electronic devices have been elusive to date.
Recently, some techniques have been introduced in order to eliminate surface roughness.
For example, microresonators fabricated by selective reflow of patterned silica have shown
ultrahigh quality factors, Q [9]. These resonators, however, are made in silica with air
cladding which is not suitable for most practical applications. It has also been demonstrated
that thermal oxidation of the dry-etched silicon ridge or channel waveguides smoothens the
sidewalls and reduces the roughness loss [10]. Meanwhile, for many applications, e.g.,
biosensing, nonlinear optics and quantum optics, it is needed to achieve devices that can
operate in the visible spectrum. Silicon, however, has a limited transparency range that
hinders its application for the visible spectrum. Furthermore, it suffers from two-photon
absorption and associated free-carrier scattering which degrade the performance of nonlinear
optical processes in silicon photonics [11]. Compact integrated photonic platforms that
operate from visible to infrared wavelengths and can be yet fabricated on silicon substrates
are highly desired.
Among other materials [12,13], oxides of refractory metals, such as tantalum (Ta), are
perfect candidates for this purpose. They are transparent in visible and infrared wavelengths
and have high refractive indices of ~2.2, which allows fabrication of high-index contrast
waveguides on low-index cladding layers, such as silicon dioxide (SiO
2
), on silicon
substrates. Tantalum pentoxide (Ta
2
O
5
) possesses large third order nonlinear optical
coefficients and high optical damage threshold [14,15]. Ta
2
O
5
waveguides have been
demonstrated in the past by using standard lithography and reactive ion etching methods [16–
18]. Cheng et al. [16] demonstrated such waveguides in 1970s. Arrayed waveguide grating
devices were demonstrated using tantalum Ta
2
O
5
in 1990s [17]. More recently, rare earth
doped Ta
2
O
5
waveguides have been demonstrated by sputtering from doped Ta
2
O
5
targets and
reactive ion etching methods [18].
A very unique property of tantalum is the ability to be oxidized at relatively low
temperatures [19]. In this paper, we exploit this unique property in order to achieve low-loss
submicron waveguides. For the first time, a novel method for fabrication of high-contrast
submicron waveguides based on selective oxidation of a refractory metal (SORM) is
introduced. The method eliminates the sidewall surface roughness scattering and at the same
time achieves submicron gaps between waveguides without the need of expensive
lithographic and etching methods and allows demonstration of high-contrast and low-loss
waveguides on silicon substrates. Tantalum pentoxide microring resonators are demonstrated
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Received 16 Jan 2013; revised 25 Feb 2013; accepted 28 Feb 2013; published 13 Mar 2013
(C) 2013 OSA
25 March 2013 / Vol. 21, No. 6 / OPTICS EXPRESS 6968
here for the first time in the telecommunication wavelengths. We believe that the
demonstrated fabrication method allows low-cost and reliable integrated optical devices to be
realized for the mentioned host of applications.
2. Fabrication technique
The SORM method proposed here is based on selective oxidation of Ta to form a waveguide
on a silicon substrate. Figure 1 shows the fabrication procedure. Tantalum is first deposited
using a sputtering tool on a silicon substrate with a SiO
2
buffer layer grown by thermal
oxidation. Next, a SiO
2
mask layer is deposited on the tantalum surface using a plasma-
enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) chamber and then patterned by electron-beam
lithography to open a narrow slot in the SiO
2
mask layer. It is noted that e-beam lithography
is used due to its availability. However, the proposed fabrication method does not necessarily
need very small feature sizes made by e-beam lithography. The sample is then placed in a
furnace with oxygen flow at 520°C to selectively convert Ta into Ta
2
O
5
in the exposed
regions of the SiO
2
mask layer. In the subsequent steps, the SiO
2
layer is removed and the
remaining Ta layer is etched away and a channel waveguide is hence achieved. A top
cladding layer of SiO
2
layer is finally deposited on the channel waveguides.
Fig. 1. The processing steps of the proposed SORM waveguide fabrication technique.
During the oxidation process the oxygen diffuses into the tantalum layer underneath the
SiO
2
mask layer as shown in Fig. 2(b). It is well-known that the diffusion process eliminates
the sidewall roughness that exists on the mask layer and allows ultra-smooth surfaces to be
achieved [10]. The oxidation process also causes inflation of the tantalum layer. The
thickness of the resulting Ta
2
O
5
layer is approximately twice the original tantalum layer.
Also, it is noted that since Ta can be etched highly selectively compared to Ta
2
O
5
, the final
tantalum etching step does not introduce any roughness in the remaining Ta
2
O
5
waveguide
layer.
Ridge waveguides can also be fabricated by a slight modification in the above process.
That is, a Ta layer deposited on the SiO
2
buffer layer is fully oxidized first to form a Ta
2
O
5
slab layer. Then, a second layer of Ta is deposited on the Ta
2
O
5
slab and selectively oxidized,
similar to the steps of Fig. 1, to form a ridge waveguide.
Figure 2 shows scanning electron microscope (SEM) images of cleaved facets of the
fabricated ridge and channel waveguides. In the ridge waveguide case (Fig. 2(a)), the
waveguide is formed into a trapezoidal shape with a base of about 1 µm. In the channel
waveguide case (Fig. 2(b)), however, the resulting waveguide is dome-shaped. It appears that
the underlying layer (Ta
2
O
5
and SiO
2
in Figs. 2(a) and 2(b), respectively) can profoundly
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Received 16 Jan 2013; revised 25 Feb 2013; accepted 28 Feb 2013; published 13 Mar 2013
(C) 2013 OSA
25 March 2013 / Vol. 21, No. 6 / OPTICS EXPRESS 6969
Fig. 2. The SEM cross-section images of the fabricated devices: (a) ridge and (b) channel
waveguides.
influence the oxidation process and the shape of the resulting waveguide. The difference can
be attributed to the much higher diffusion constant of oxygen in Ta
2
O
5
than SiO
2
.
Propagation losses of <10 dB/cm from such straight ridge waveguide, with different base
widths ranging from 600 to 1200 nm, were measured using the Fabry-Perot (FP) technique
for the ridge waveguides. Negligible sensitivity of FP fringes and transmitted power for
waveguides with various widths suggests that the modest loss is not related to sidewall
scattering. As follows, channel waveguides as well as ridge and channel microring resonators
were fabricated to further investigate this.
In addition to eliminating the surface roughness problem, the explained novel fabrication
method eliminates the need for expensive lithographic and etching tools needed for achieving
submicron gaps in integrated optics. Generally, very precise gaps on the order of 100 nm are
needed in order to achieve high coupling between high-index contrast waveguides and
resonators. One advantage of the SORM fabrication technique is that such extremely narrow
and precise waveguide gaps can be readily achieved with low-cost lithography and etching
methods. In SORM, the gap width can be controlled accurately by the oxidation time, and its
accuracy is less related to the lithographic and etching steps. In the following results, such
small gaps on the order of 100 nm with a few nm of accuracy are reported.
In order to demonstrate all the claims for our new fabrication method, we have made
micro-ring resonators fabricated using this technology. Figure 3 shows a microscope image of
our fabricated microresonator device. As can be seen, a microresonator is coupled to two
input and output waveguides. There is also two bends from input to output to study the effect
of bending loss in the device in addition to scattering and material losses that will be obtained
by measuring the resonators’ Q, as discussed below.
Fig. 3. Microscope image of fabricated microring resonator with input and output coupled
waveguides.
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Received 16 Jan 2013; revised 25 Feb 2013; accepted 28 Feb 2013; published 13 Mar 2013
(C) 2013 OSA
25 March 2013 / Vol. 21, No. 6 / OPTICS EXPRESS 6970
3. Characterization and discussion
The first device that was fabricated was a microresonator using ridge waveguides. Figure 2(a)
shows the device cross-section. Devices with diameters ranging from 200 µm and larger were
fabricated based on the calculation results that showed negligible bending loss. Figure 4(a)
shows the measured transmission spectrum of a 300-µm diameter device for two different
coupling strengths between the waveguides and the resonator (corresponding to 2.6 and 2.8
µm gaps on the mask) for the transverse electric (TE) mode at a center wavelength of 1550
nm. It is evident that single-mode resonances are experimentally observed. By increasing the
coupling, the resonance peak width increases, as expected, and the device performs closer to
the critical coupling point. Based on these measurements, the propagation loss of the
waveguide and the coupling strength were extracted by curve fitting according to standard
ring-resonator theories [6]. The extracted propagation loss is 9.5 dB/cm in a 300-µm diameter
device, the estimated unloaded Q is ~4 × 10
4
and the unloaded finesse is 30. The coupling
coefficient was calculated and an exponential decay as a function of linear gap was obtained,
in agreement with the theory (see Fig. 4(b)).
Fig. 4. (a) TE transmission spectrum of a device with 300-µm diameter and for two coupling
strengths (colored lines) and the fitted spectra (black lines) around 1550 nm; (b) Measured and
fitted coupling coefficient times length (
κ
× l) as a function of the coupling gap for two
different microring radii.
The input polarization was also changed to transverse magnetic (TM). The guided light,
however, converted to the TE mode in the device. This can be explained by noting that the
effective index of the TE and TM modes are very close to each other for this ridge structure.
Hence, the TM mode can easily couple to the TE mode by small perturbations in the device.
The TE-mode effective index is slightly larger, however, and the guided light will remain in
this mode after conversion.
Next, the slab waveguide region was eliminated in the fabrication process (see Fig. 1), and
channel waveguides and microresonators were demonstrated. Figure 2(b) shows a typical
waveguide cross-section SEM image confirming a Ta
2
O
5
core region with approximate
dimensions of 500 nm × 600 nm, and with a shape qualitatively in agreement with the
schematic of Fig. 1(d). Since the index contrast in these channel waveguides is larger than the
discussed ridge waveguides, more compact ring-resonators can be attained. Microresonators
with diameters ranging from 20 to 80 µm were fabricated based on calculation results that
demonstrate negligible bending loss. Figure 5(a) shows the transmission spectrum of a device
with 80 µm diameter both for TE and TM modes. The extracted unloaded Q for this device is
equal to 4.5 × 10
4
. The propagation loss, based on the measured Q, is 8.5 dB/cm for both TE
and TM modes. Remarkably, the measured loss for this microresonator with a smaller
channel cross-section is slightly lower than the ridge waveguides discussed before.
In order to experimentally confirm that the measured loss is not due to bending loss, we
measured the transmission for smaller diameter devices. Figure 5(b) shows the TM-mode
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Received 16 Jan 2013; revised 25 Feb 2013; accepted 28 Feb 2013; published 13 Mar 2013
(C) 2013 OSA
25 March 2013 / Vol. 21, No. 6 / OPTICS EXPRESS 6971
transmission spectrum for a 40-µm diameter device. Since there are two bends between the
input and output (see Fig. (3)) and since the bending loss is highly wavelength-dependent and
not negligible in this case, there is a drop in the transmitted power as a function of wavelength
and the resonance width is slightly increased too. However, no wavelength-dependent
insertion loss is observed in the presented 80-µm diameter device and hence the bending loss
is negligible in that device. Similar behavior is observed in the ridge waveguides (Fig. 4(a)).
Fig. 5. (a) Transmission spectrum of a channel-waveguide-based microresonator with 80 µm
diameter for TE and TM modes around 1550 nm; (b) Transmission spectrum of a channel-
waveguide-based microresonator with 40 µm diameter for TM modes around 1550 nm. The
bending loss is considerable in this case.
Based on the presented results, it is evident that the propagation loss in all the fabricated
devices is limited to about 8.5 to 9 dB/cm regardless of the waveguide structure (ridge versus
channel) and ridge waveguide base width (600 nm to 1200 nm). Also, similar values of loss
have also been previously reported for much wider tantalum pentoxide waveguides made by
conventional fabrication methods [14]. The scattering loss is highly dependent on the
dimensions of the device since the scattered light is proportional to the quadratic power of the
electric field which is much larger for smaller devices. Since no change in the measured
propagation loss for waveguides ranging from several microns to submicron dimensions is
observed, it is clear that the loss can only be attributed to material absorption in the Ta
2
O
5
core region and not to sidewall scattering or bending loss. The slight decrease in the loss for
smaller devices can then be explained by slightly less confinement of the mode in the
waveguide core.
The rather high material loss of Ta
2
O
5
, meanwhile, could be due impurities in the
sputtered Ta metal deposition. It is known that gases like argon and nitrogen can be
incorporated in sputtered metallic films [20]. Higher material quality may be possible if other
deposition techniques are employed to form the Ta layer(s).
4. Conclusions
In conclusion, ring resonator devices were demonstrated for the first time in tantalum
pentoxide waveguides on silicon substrate by using a novel fabrication method, named
SORM. Propagation losses as low as 8.5 dB/cm were obtained in Ta
2
O
5
submicron
waveguides and it is evidenced that the loss is not related to scattering from the surface
roughness or bending loss but rather attributed to material absorption in the core region.
Submicron gaps needed for compact couplers were achieved based on the proposed
fabrication method, which led to the demonstration of submicron Ta
2
O
5
microring resonator,
for the first time, with diameters as low as 80 µm with finesses as high as 120 and quality
factors as high as 4.5 × 10
4
. Further, research is needed in order to identify the cause of the
material loss. It is expected that if the material loss is eliminated, ultrahigh-Q and ultralow
loss devices can be made using the novel technique described in this paper.
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Received 16 Jan 2013; revised 25 Feb 2013; accepted 28 Feb 2013; published 13 Mar 2013
(C) 2013 OSA
25 March 2013 / Vol. 21, No. 6 / OPTICS EXPRESS 6972
    • "4Nevertheless, the quality factor for the TE 0 mode in the Ta 2 O 5 based micro-ring resonator is 3.91 × 10 4 . Once neglecting the coupling contribution in the micro-ring resonator, the unload Q of 4.48 × 10 4 is determined [21], which is comparable to the previous work reported by P. Rabiei and associates [15]. One should be noticed that propagation loss of Ta 2 O 5 channel waveguide is around 1.5dB/cm, which is determined from the cut-back method. "
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