FINAL CONFERENCE – Innovation and business potential of SIC optical and mechanical materials: the experience of SiComb & SIC Nano for PicoGeo frontier projects

On March 20th, Brussels became the epicentre of innovation as it hosted the culminating conference for two landmark projects; the final conference for the  SiComb and SiC Nano for PicoGeo. Both initiatives, supported by the European Commission under the pioneering Horizon 2020 FET-Open Programme, have pushed the boundaries of technology with their exploration into silicon carbide (SiC), opening new frontiers in the creation of compact, high-efficiency devices and advanced systems for geophysical monitoring. The conference, featuring a series of enriching debates and an exchange of interesting ideas, represented a pivotal moment to review the results achieved by SiComb and SiC Nano for PicoGeo projects, as well as a forward-looking discussion on the future trajectory of research and application in the field. Attendees left with a renewed sense of purpose, inspired by the potential of these projects to redefine what’s possible in technology and geophysical exploration.  

From the beginning of the day, the SiComb research team led by the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and composed of academic and industrial partners, shone a spotlight on the groundbreaking innovations emerging from their work. Their goal was ambitious: to develop the first-ever on-chip frequency comb in silicon carbide (SiC). This material is celebrated for its exceptional optical properties and its seamless integration with the existing CMOS technologies. Through their collective efforts, the team embarked on a journey to unlock the vast potential of SiC, setting the stage for revolutionary advancements in technological applications.  

A key figure in the realization and success of SiComb is the project coordinator, Haiyan Ou, whose vast experience and dedication to the field of wide-bandgap semiconductor photonics illuminated the project's path. As associate professor and leader of the semiconductor bandgap photonics research group at DTU, as well as the founder of Light Extraction Aps, Dr. Ou has dedicated over 25 years to the study of integrated optics, with a particular focus on silicon photonics. Her commitment to the field is evidenced by over 270 publications and more than 22 presentations at international conferences. Last year, her commitment to SiC-based integrated photonics earned her the prestigious Editor-in-chief Choice Award, highlighting the importance and innovation of her scientific contributions. 

During the conference, particular attention was given to how the SiComb project addressed the challenges inherent in developing on-chip frequency combs. Speakers highlighted the crucial choice of silicon carbide, given its ability to operate across an ultra-wideband, from near-ultraviolet to mid-infrared. This characteristic makes SiC particularly suitable for a wide range of applications, from telecommunications to environmental and medical analysis, offering a versatile and innovative solution compared to materials traditionally used for frequency combs. 

The event provided a platform for in-depth dialogue between experts, coordinated by Laura Vivani of Moverim Consulting, partner in both SiComb and SiC Nano for PicoGeo. During the round tables, the benefits and challenges related to the fabrication and characterization of SiC were discussed. Three different round tables saw the active participation of various project partners of SiComb and SiC Nano for PicoGeo and leading researchers in the field of optical technologies. These moments of comparison allowed for a deeper understanding of the different aspects of the work done, from the technical challenges overcome to the significant results achieved. In particular, the importance of close collaboration between the academic and industrial worlds for the success of the project was highlighted, emphasizing how technology transfer represents a key factor for innovation. 

During the first round table: "SiC fabrication and characterization: benefits, challenges and main results obtained by the two projects in terms of innovation and effective utilization of the material within devices,"

Peter Wellmann, professor of materials science at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and leader of work package focusing on Material Growth of the SiComb project, chaired the session, introducing the speakers and moderating the debate. Among the participants, Yaoqin Lu, a Ph.D. student at DTU, shared his studies on SiC-based photonic devices, highlighting the importance of the material for the fabrication and characterization of innovative platforms. Jana Schultheiß, engaged in research on the crystalline growth of SiC at FAU, discussed the challenges and successes in obtaining high-quality 3C-SiC layers, fundamental for the advancement of devices. Marcin Zielinski of NOVASiC and Didier Chaussende of CNRS further deepened the theme, touching on critical aspects such as the reduction of surface roughness and the optimization of deposition processes for MEMS applications. 

Questions raised during the debate ranged from the use of 3C-SiC in their projects to the impact of stress and defects on the material's mechanical and optical properties. These queries allowed for an exploration of the advantages of SiC in integrated photonics and strategies for further improving the quality of the layers produced. One of the highlights was the discussion on the effect of yield in the realization of MEMS and the main parameters that influence this yield, providing valuable insights on how to innovatively address these challenges. The Q&A session with the audience allowed for further depth, highlighting the difficulties in manufacturing integrated circuits on SiC platforms and exploring new directions to overcome these obstacles. 

In conclusion, the round table highlighted the crucial role of silicon carbide in emerging technologies, demonstrating how collaboration between research institutes and industry is fundamental to transforming scientific discoveries into concrete solutions. Thanks to the deep knowledge shared by the speakers and interactions with the audience, the event offered a comprehensive overview of the state of the art of SiC, outlining a promising future for this advanced material. 

Round table 2: “Lessons learned and future directions: Silicon Carbide’s Role in advanced applications and its potential in the market”  

Implementation insights from the second-round table highlighted the prototyping phase as critical for the success of any R&D project. Moderated by Nicola Aresi from SISGEO, this session delved into the encountered challenges, adopted strategies for risk mitigation, and lessons learned throughout the prototyping process. 

Nicola Aresi, with a background in electronic engineering from Politecnico di Milano and experience in R&D, emphasized proactive risk management during prototyping. Valentina Bertana, a post-doc researcher at Politecnico di Torino, shared her work on using additive manufacturing for printed electronics and integrated systems, showing how it reduces implementation risks in prototyping by optimizing device packaging and interconnections. Dimitris Kalavrouziotis from NVIDIA discussed the importance of photonic design and lab testing of prototypes, focusing on optical interconnects and switching for data center networks and AI systems. His insights demonstrated how close R&D collaboration can overcome technical challenges, leading to significant innovations. Luca Belsito from CNR-IMM – partner in SiC Nano for PicoGeo project - covered the fabrication and characterization of MEMS and the development of electronic readout systems. His work on optoelectronic readout for sensor resonance functionality highlighted innovative solutions in prototype packaging to improve device precision and functionality. Luigi Carleo from INGV presented on ground deformation and volcanic eruption monitoring systems, focusing on the strain meter developed in the PicoGeo project. He addressed testing phase challenges and their impact on measurements, underlining the importance of precision in high-accuracy geophysical applications.  

The Q&A session allowed for a deeper exploration of unexpected challenges, main difficulties, and project successes. The discussion showed that despite hurdles, a collaborative approach and innovation led to significant outcomes. In summary, this round table underlined the importance of risk mitigation and continuous learning in the prototyping phase, with shared insights emphasizing the crucial role of interdisciplinary collaboration and innovative technologies in overcoming challenges and creating functional prototypes for new practical applications.  

Round Table 3: Future steps: Bridging innovation from research to market 

The third-round table focused on the future of the developed innovations and how research outcomes connect to the market. Moderated by Haiyan Ou from DTU and Francesco La Via from SiC Nano for PicoGeo, the session offered unique perspectives on potential applications and the significance of bridging the gap between research and industry.  

Mikael Syväjärvi from ALMINICA highlighted the critical role of knowledge transfer for creating impact, pointing out how interactive workshops, data sharing for digitalization, sustainability values, and open innovation can build trust and expand opportunities, effectively linking innovation to market demand. 

Luca Belsito from CNR-IMM and Luigi Carleo from INGV shared their research's potential applications beyond geophysics, exploring how innovations could be adapted to new contexts and the scientific community's real interests in these areas. Paraskevas Bakopoulos from NVIDIA focused on the current landscape of data center connectivity and AI systems, discussing frequency comb applications in this field. His analysis underlined the importance of optical interconnections and the shift to integrated optics for enhancing computing system performance and sustainability. 

The Q&A session provided further insights into new sensor applications in other research fields and potential industrial applications benefiting from the newly developed strainmeter's micro deformation measurements. This round table emphasized effective strategies for transferring innovation from research to market, with AI and digitalization as key enablers. The commitment to overcoming barriers between research and practical applications signals a promising path for SiComb and SiC Nano for PicoGeo projects, with potential impacts extending far beyond geophysics.  

In conclusion, the final conference for the SiComb and SiC Nano for PicoGeo projects represented a crucial moment to value and share the achievements in research on silicon carbide, showcasing the vast potential of this material in optical applications. Thanks to the support from the European Commission and the collaboration between academic partners, it was possible to explore and expand the frontiers of SiC-based technologies, opening new perspectives for innovation and sustainable development.  

We wish to express our deepest gratitude to all the partners who collaborated with SiComb, for their commitment, knowledge-sharing, and teamwork that made the success of these projects possible. A special thanks goes to the SiComb project coordinator, Haiyan Ou, whose leadership and vision guided the team toward significant results and groundbreaking innovations. The active participation and interest shown by attendees, both online and in-person, enriched the event, making it an occasion for exchange and collective learning. The roundtable discussions offered moments of stimulating dialogue and underscored the importance of collaboration between academia and industry, essential for transforming scientific discoveries into practical applications that can benefit society as a whole 

Looking to the future, we hope to continue collaborating with all involved partners and to welcome new opportunities for research and development. The conference highlighted not only the successes achieved but also the challenges to be faced and future opportunities, demonstrating how ongoing dialogue and joint research are crucial for advancing in the field of advanced technologies. We are eager to see how these innovations will be implemented and what new horizons will be opened thanks to the joint efforts of all involved partners. Your dedication and commitment are the key to scientific and technological progress, and together we can continue to push the boundaries of innovation for a better future.