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Geoff Taylor: Making the next generation of semiconductor chips

Geoff Taylor, chief scientist for POET Technologies Inc., has developed a faster chip.

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For nearly 50 years, Moore's Law has dictated the pace of technological innovation.

The concept, named after the co-founder of Intel Corp., states that as the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every 18 months or so, the performance capabilities of technological devices increase. But with the current silicon-based integrated circuits and manufacturing processes, finding ways to boost performance and cut costs under Moore's Law are becoming increasingly limited.

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Geoff Taylor, the chief scientist for POET Technologies Inc., has spent much of the past 18 years developing a next-generation semiconductor chip based on gallium arsenide technology.

By combining electronics and optics on one monolithic chip, POET believes it can usher in a new wave of innovation, lowering power consumption by up to 10 times compared with current silicon chips, with an increase of between 20 and 50 times the speed.

"To me, innovation was always about taking that next big jump from where we are today," Dr. Taylor says. "I was in a unique position in that I made these basic discoveries in terms of device structures way ahead of my time.

"I started out in a group where our charter was 'Tell us what's going to take the place of silicon sometime in the future.' We were a forward-looking group and that's what we were asked to do."

Dr. Taylor, a native of Cobourg, Ont., is also a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Connecticut, where his lab is based. His work has relied on the financial investment of the U.S. federal government – he estimates he has received about $20-million (U.S.) in research grants over the past 20 years, combined with another $1.5-million in state grants – but has resulted in 34 patents, with another seven pending.

Though his chip technology has yet to be commercialized, the 69-year-old says that POET (which stands for Planar Opto Electronic Technology) is currently demonstrating the product for some of the leading chip manufacturers. It needs partners to take the product to the marketplace. Given the increasing reliance that the world has on electronics, Dr. Taylor is aware of the potential upside to his technology.

"That's the question you have to answer to establish value," he says. "Most people have PCs … but PC capability has pretty much stalled.

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"Then you have all the mobile platforms, so the cellphones, the tablets, the Kindles and the portable computing devices and of course, we all know how significant the cellular/smartphone market is. That's clearly a place where power is the deciding factor, and if you combine the power with the ability to merge, inside a cellphone, multiple chips into a single chip, that's not something that's going to happen overnight, but that's where the potential is and that's where we need to keep our prospects."

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