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Information für die Wissenschaft Nr. 43 | 13. Juli 2017
Priority Programme “Electronic-Photonic Integrated Systems for Ultrafast Signal Processing” (SPP 2111)

In March 2017 the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme “Electronic-Photonic Integrated Systems for Ultrafast Signal Processing” (SPP 2111). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the first three-year funding period.

Research Goals

Optical signal processing offers advantages with respect to bandwidth and is typically much more energy-efficient than electrical signal processing. Furthermore, optical signal transmission is less lossy since high-speed fibre-optic communication networks build the “backbone” of the internet. In addition to these advantages, optical oscillators (lasers) show some fundamentally better spectral properties than their electronic counterparts. On the other hand electronic signal processors, e.g. microprocessors are very cost-efficient, allow for sophisticated algorithms, use small processing elements (transistors) and are programmable by software. Nowadays, optical and electronic circuits are still clearly separated domains. In recent years photonic-electronic integration technologies as for instance Silicon photonics and Indium-Phosphide technology have developed significantly. Silicon photonics technology opens new horizons in combining optical devices with digital processors, memory, and software on a single chip. It allows for miniaturised optics, close proximity of optics and electronics, and reduces energy consumption and size. These new possibilities have the potential to break up the paradigm of separate domains of optical and electronic signal processing and require a thorough reconsideration how for example signal processing algorithms, signal processors, communication networks and sensors should be optimally realised in order to exploit the full potential of nanophotonic/nanoelectronic systems.

Thus, the goal of the Priority Programme is to address novel nanophotonic/nanoelectronic systems by investigating fundamental photonic-electronic signal processing concepts and novel integrated system architectures using electronic and photonic processing on the same chip. Optic and electronic signal processing have different strengths and weaknesses. The limitations of electronic signal processing materialise foremost in two bottlenecks: the bandwidth bottleneck and the clock jitter bottleneck. The bandwidth bottleneck currently limits electronic signal processing to around 100 GHz for small circuits and to much lower bandwidths for complex circuits (e.g. analogue-to-digital converters). Bandwidth limitation of electronic circuits is caused by the bandwidth limitation of their transistors. Transistor transit frequency is an important metric for transistor bandwidth and will be physically limited to around 1 THz in the course of the next decade according to the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS). Therefore it is expected that future bandwidth of electronic circuits will be limited to around 0.5 THz within the next ten years. Hence, signal bandwidth of electronic signal processing will be fundamentally limited to around 0.5 THz in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, optical signal processing offers bandwidth in the multi-THz-range even today. In optical fibres extra-ordinary low loss of 0.3 dB/km is achieved in a wavelength range from 1200 to 1600 nm which corresponds to a frequency range from 250 THz to around 180 THz. This represents a total of 70 THz of usable bandwidth. In general, optical signal processing allows for many THz of signal bandwidth even for a single optical carrier and can be used to implement generic processing functions such as optical pulse shaping and filtering, integration, differentiation, as well as more complex functions like Hilbert transformation and others. Traditionally optical signal processing is expensive and suffers from bulky optics, limited complexity, lack of memory and difficult programmability. Nanophotonic/nanoelectronic technology helps to overcome these drawbacks. In addition, the close proximity of photonics and electronics prepares the way for completely new system concepts where for example most broadband signal processing tasks are shifted to the optical domain operating with several THz of contiguous bandwidth. Currently this field of research is rarely addressed. It represents a core research area for this call.

The jitter respectively phase noise bottleneck of electronic circuits limits the performance of electronic oscillators to jitter values of somewhat less than 40 fs rms for the best oven-controlled quartz oscillators. This restricts the system performance of wireless communications as well as the resolution of broadband analog-to-digital-converters. In contrast to electronic oscillators optical oscillators such as CW lasers or mode-locked-lasers can achieve a much higher frequency stability. As an example optical pulse trains of mode-locked lasers with ultra-low RMS-jitter down to a few attoseconds have been demonstrated.

The general goal of the programme is therefore to investigate how combined photonic-electronic systems using a huge optical bandwidth as well as emerging nanophotonic/nanoelectronic integration technologies could allow ultra-broadband signal processing and ultra-low-jitter clocks. Another goal is to disrupt the current bandwidth and jitter limitations of purely electronic respectively conventional photonic-electronic systems by orders of magnitude. In addition, novel, miniaturised optical/THz sensing systems which operate at an extreme bandwidth or with unprecedented precision enabled by electronic-photonic integration are of interest.

Research Programme

Project proposals should target to disrupt fundamental limits of electronic signal processing by means of electronic-photonic signal processing using nanophotonic/nanoelectronic technology and integrated nanophotonic/nanoelectronic system design. Proposals may address the following three core areas of basic research:

  • integrated systems for ultra-broadband photonic-electronic signal processing targeting bandwidth far beyond state-of-the-art electronic bandwidth as for example:
    • signal processing techniques allowing for more than 0.5 THz contiguous bandwidth per optical or electronic carrier
    • novel ultra-broadband photonic-electronic pulse shapers/modulators for ultra-broadband transmitters
    • novel ultra-broadband photonic-electronic receivers
    • advanced system concepts and algorithms making use of ultra-broadband signal processing
  • integrated systems for optical signal processing using femto-second-pulse-lasers targeting RMS jitter well below electronic jitter as for example:
    • opto-electronic sampling and opto-electronic analog-to-digital-converters
    • photonics-assisted frequency synthesis targeting extreme low jitter e.g. below 10fs RMS
    • chip-scale low-phase-noise mode-locked lasers
    • theoretical investigations of optical ADCs and frequency synthesizers
  • Integrated optical/THz sensing systems disrupting current limitations of state-of-the-art sensing systems as for example:
    • optical phased-arrays for beam-steering applications in ranging and communication
    • extreme spatial and spectral resolution for integrated optical metrology
    • THz bandwidth photonic/electronic signal generation and sensing
    • combinations of photonic and electronic sensors for sensor fusion

This programme differs from previous programmes and projects focussing on photonic devices and semiconductor technology research by its clear focus on research on photonic-electronic signal processing and integrated systems. Building on results from previous research results from nano-photonics, this Priority Programme is thought to foster the transition to interdisciplinary research in the areas of photonic-electronic circuit and system design, communication technology, networks, high-performance computing and sensorics. Therefore, proposals should not focus on semiconductor device or semiconductor technology research but rather on novel circuits, system architectures, and signal processing algorithms matching one of the mentioned three core areas.

Projects which target to validate integrated system concepts by means of demonstrators can make use of various existing electronic-photonic respective photonic technology chip fabrication offerings. In this context (minor) changes to technologies could be foreseen in the work programme if they require limited resources and would support important system properties, signal processing functions or facilitate microsystem integration.

The applicants are free to submit joint proposals as well as individual proposals addressing the mentioned three core research areas.

Proposals must be written in English and submitted to the DFG by 24 October 2017. A review meeting with reviewers and applicants will be held in early 2018. The date and agenda of this venue will be announced via a notification to the applicants. The envisaged start of funding is early to mid 2018.

Please note that proposals can only be submitted via elan, the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system. To enter a new project within the existing Priority Programme, go to Proposal Submission – New Project/Draft Proposal – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 2111” from the current list of calls.

In preparing your proposal, please review the programme guidelines (form 50.05, section B) and follow the proposal preparation instructions (form 54.01). These forms can either be downloaded from our website or accessed through the elan portal. In addition to submitting your proposal through elan, please send an electronic copy to the programme coordinator.

Applicants must be registered in elan prior to submitting a proposal to the DFG. If you have not yet registered, please note that you must do so by 10 October 2017 to submit a proposal under this call; registration requests received after this time cannot be considered. You will normally receive confirmation of your registration by the next working day. Note that you will be asked to select the appropriate Priority Programme call during both the registration and the proposal process.

Further information

The elan system can be accessed at:

DFG forms 50.05 and 54.01 can be downloaded at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the Priority Programme coordinator:

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:

Programme contact:

Administrative contact:


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