People behind the PICs | The Photonic Integrated Circuits (PIC) industry is booming. Companies in the field are growing steadily, start-ups with innovative solutions are popping up regularly, and the search for technical staff seems never-ending. In this interview series, we are curious to get to know the people behind the PICs. Who are the energy forces driving this technological revolution, and what motivates them? What can future photonics engineers expect from a career in this field?
Arezou Meighan was born in Tehran, Iran, and started her PhD in the Photonic Integration (PhI) group at TU/e in 2016. In 2021, five years and a pandemic later, she obtained the PhD degree with her thesis ‘Co-design of the high-speed photonic and electronic integrated circuits’. Arezou is a Photonics Inventor, a title that fits both her natural curiosity and acquired expertise. After working as a Research & Development Engineer at SMART Photonics for a year, she currently is a Senior PIC Developer at Infinera, a company revolutionizing telecommunications networks with innovative, industry-leading connectivity solutions.
Take us back to the beginning of your PhD journey: What made you decide to do a PhD in PICs and pursue a career in this field?
“I did my masters in nano-electronic engineering and specifically researched spin-based quantum computing. I knew I wanted to do a PhD, but as much as I wanted to experience the world of academia, I was also curious about industry opportunities. For several years, I worked as a lecturer and supervisor at universities and in the R&D department of companies in the smart home and railway industry. It was during my last R&D job that I became interested in Photonic Integrated Circuits. I was doing research on fiber optic telecommunication in high-speed railway networks and had access to articles of Meint Smit, who was heading the Photonic Integration group at TU/e back then. I was curious and wanted to explore the topic further, so I talked to my manager about doing a PhD. I applied to more than 10 universities because I did not think I was an eligible candidate, but I actually got an offer from almost every university I applied to. The PhD position at TU/e was my first choice, and I accepted the offer while on my way back from the job interview.”
How did you develop your ideas and find focus during your PhD?
“The topic of my PhD was originally supposed to be wafer scale co-integration of electronics and photonics. However, after doing some process developments for high-speed interconnects between electronic and photonic ICs, the company that was responsible for the photonic wafers was acquired by another company, which meant I had to find other things to research. As a person, I am very curious and eager to explore why things are the way they are. I started asking questions on what was possible, why things had been done a certain way for years, and to answer those questions I had to go very deep into the PIC components. One of the building blocks on a photonic chip is called a Mach-Zehnder modulator (MZM). I started to research these modulators, as well as the co-design and co-integration of Photonic Integrated Circuits (PICs) with high-speed Electronic Integrated Circuits (EICs). I developed an easy-to-use analytical simulation model to predict the behavior of modulators before producing and measuring them. After I published the result of that model, I went on to actually produce a high-speed modulator and measure the results a year later. My novel modulator is a state-of-the-art, high-density and high-speed 100 GHz class MZM in the generic indium phosphide platform. It has just 17µm phase-shifter width and assessed over 67GHz electro-optical bandwidth. To put it in more comprehensible terms, I increased the density and speed of this modulator to the highest numbers published at the time.
What was challenging in your research and what was the most rewarding?
“What I found challenging in working with a scientific community, is that some scientists only trust you when they see a result. They need evidence, proof points. The simulation model I developed had never been used before, so when I had produced my modulator and was measuring it, I was incredibly stressed. I was 99% sure the results would be as predicted, because I had done a lot of research, but I only had one shot to design and produce the devices. Luckily, the results were accurate and the devices that I developed actually worked! This was a big achievement. I would say that was the most rewarding moment.”
How would you, overall, describe your time in the PhI group at TU/e?
“I spent more than 5 years in this group and there were, of course, good moments and bad moments. Overall, I am happy that I made the choice to do a PhD in Eindhoven. It is really valuable to pursue the topic of photonic integration in a place that provides all the necessary infrastructure and equipment. At the TU/e, you have access to incredibly advanced labs for measurement and fabrication, and to the right software for design and simulation. If there is a lack of equipment, people are always open to collaborations with other groups or departments, or even with universities in other countries. There are not many groups that can offer this much to PhD researchers. All in all, it was a profound learning experience. I had the chance to develop myself personally while working alongside big names in the field. Many of them were very willing to share their knowledge, even when I had questions that were so blurry that I didn’t know how to pose them. I look back on my PhD journey fondly.”
Do you see yourself working in the PIC industry for a long time?
“Yes. PIC technology is still relatively new, it’s in the growing phase. As I have a curious nature, I want to work in an industry where there are still a lot of open questions. Photonic integration has the potential to be used for many applications. The ones you hear about most are telecommunications, healthcare, agriculture, lidar, etc., but I believe there are even more applications that are currently still being researched and have not been published yet. There is still a lot to discover, and that is what I like about it.”
Do you have any tips for people starting out in the field of photonics, or things they should keep in mind?
“Pursuing a career in photonics gives you the chance to make a real impact in what will most likely be the defining technology of this century. As the industry is still in its early phase, the field is not saturated yet and you can truly show your creativity. There are many job opportunities, so you have a lot of freedom on where you choose to work and how you develop your career path. If like me you are naturally curious, this is a great industry to find yourself in.”
Curious to know which job opportunities the photonic integration community has to offer? Check out our career page.