Modeling Electrical Switching of Nonvolatile Phase-Change Integrated Nanophotonic Structures with Graphene Heaters

January, 2020

Progress in integrated nanophotonics has enabled large-scale programmable photonic integrated circuits (PICs) for general-purpose electronic-photonic systems on a chip. Relying on the weak, volatile thermo-optic or electro-optic effects, such systems usually exhibit limited reconfigurability along with high energy consumption and large footprints. These challenges can be addressed by resorting to chalcogenide phase-change materials (PCMs) such as Ge2Sb2Te5 (GST) that provide substantial optical contrast in a self-holding fashion upon phase transitions. However, current PCM-based integrated photonic applications are limited to single devices or simple PICs due to the poor scalability of the optical or electrical self-heating actuation approaches. Thermal-conduction heating via external electrical heaters, instead, allows large-scale integration and large-area switching, but fast and energy-efficient electrical control is yet to show. Here, we model electrical switching of GST-clad integrated nanophotonic structures with graphene heaters based on the programmable GST-on-silicon platform. Thanks to the ultra-low heat capacity and high in-plane thermal conductivity of graphene, the proposed structures exhibit a high switching speed of ~80 MHz and high energy efficiency of 19.2 aJ/nm^3 (6.6 aJ/nm^3) for crystallization (amorphization) while achieving complete phase transitions to ensure strong attenuation (~6.46 dB/micron) and optical phase (~0.28 dB/micron at 1550 nm) modulation. Compared with indium tin oxide and silicon p-i-n heaters, the structures with graphene heaters display two orders of magnitude higher figure of merits for heating and overall performance. Our work facilitates the analysis and understanding of the thermal-conduction heating-enabled phase transitions on PICs and supports the development of the future large-scale PCM-based electronic-photonic systems.

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