Date of Award

Summer 8-2015

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Electrical and Computer Engineering


Gianluca Piazza


Over the past several years, rapid advances in the field of integrated photonics coupled with nanofabrication capabilities have enabled studies of the interaction of light with the mechanics of a variety of physical structures. Concurrently, mechanical resonators have been extensively studied in the MEMS community due to their high quality factors, and have been implemented in a variety of RF filters and oscillators. The combination of MEMS with integrated optomechanical structures can generate a variety of novel devices that can be used for applications in RF-Photonics, timing and optical switching. While there are several demonstrations of electrostatic devices integrated with optomechanical structures, fewer examples exist in the piezoelectric domain. In particular, photonic integration in a piezoelectric material can benefit from some of the traditional strengths associated with this type of actuation, such as the ability to easily scale to higher frequencies of operation by patterning lateral features, the ability to interface with 50Ω electronics and strong electromechanical coupling. In addition, it enables a platform to produce new architectures for photonic-based electronic frequency reference oscillators that incorporate multiple degrees of freedom. This thesis presents the development of a piezoelectrically-actuated acousto-optic modulator in the aluminum nitride (AlN) material system. The process of implementing this device is carried out in five principal stages. First, light coupling from optical fibers to the AlN thin film is demonstrated with the use of on-chip grating couplers, exhibiting a peak insertion loss of -6.6 dB and a high 1 dB bandwidth of 60 nm for operation in the telecommunications C- and L-bands. This is followed by characterization of photonic whispering gallery mode microdisk and microring resonators with optical quality factors on the order of 104. Next, a robust fabrication method combining optical and electron-beam lithography is developed to produce a fully-integrated device preserving the critical features for acoustic and photonic resonators to be colocalized in the same platform. Acousto-optic modulation is demonstrated with the use of a contour mode resonator which drives displacements in the photonic resonator at 653 MHz, corresponding to the mechanical resonance of the composite structure. The modulator is then implemented in an opto-acoustic oscillator loop, for which an initial phase noise of -72 dBc/Hz at 10 kHz offset from the carrier is recorded with a large contribution from thermal noise at the photodetector. Finally, some possibilities to improve the modulator efficiency and oscillator phase noise are provided along with prospects for future work in this area.