Thin-film integrated optics is becoming more and more important in optical-communications technology. The fabrication of passive devices such as planar optical waveguides, splitters, and multiplexers is now quite well-developed. Devices based on this technology are now commercially available. One step to further improve this technology is to develop optical amplifiers that can be integrated with these devices. Such amplifiers can compensate for the losses in splitters or other optical components, and can also serve as pre-amplifiers for active devices such as detectors.
In optical-fiber technology, erbium-doped fiber amplifiers, are used in long-distance fiber-communications links. They use an optical transition in Er3+ at a wavelength of 1.54 μm for signal amplification, and their success has set a standard of optical communication at this wavelength. Using the same concept of Er doping, planar-waveguide amplifiers are now being developed. For these devices, silicon is often used as a substrate, so that optoelectronic integration with other devices in or on Si (electrical devices, or Si-based light sources, detectors, and modulators) may become possible. Figure 1 shows an example of a silicon-based optical integrated circuit5 in which a 1 × 4 splitter is combined with an amplifying section.