Master’s student position

Machine learning with photonic neural networks

Ref. 2019-07

Project description

Schematic of all optical  neural network based on Si photonic delay lines (black spirals) and integrated  optical weights Artificial intelligence (AI) is the ability to perform tasks that are generally associated with intelligent beings. Recently, bio- and neuro-inspired (neuromorphic) algorithms have attracted considerable attention with their ability to extract structure and knowledge from huge unstructured data sets. To execute these new algorithms efficiently at the large scale required in datacenters or, for example, to interpret sensor data locally in embedded, very low-power devices, we need novel neuromorphic compute architectures and hardware.

At IBM Research – Zurich, the Neuromorphic Devices & Systems group is working on implementing a neural network based on integrated silicon photonic technology. We recently developed integrated, multi-level optical synaptic elements that will be embedded in an all-optical neural network (see image). Before we can do that, however, we need a better understanding of the electro-optic properties of these synaptic elements.

Scope of this Master’s thesis

Electro-optical  characterization setup. We will adapt the focus of the thesis based on your interests. Possible topics include:

  • Characterization of weighting elements: Measurement of device transmission. Set up and perform electro-optical measurements and analyze your measurement results.
  • Design an interface between hardware and software to control multiple weighting elements in parallel. This involves programming of microcontrollers or FPGAs.
  • Device and system simulations.
  • High-speed electro-optical measurements.

Your profile

We are seeking a candidate with a strong interest in integrated optics. Prior experience in microcontroller programming, object-oriented programming and/or optical characterization is a plus. You should be enrolled as a student at ETH Zurich. For this project you should be available for a period of at least 6 months starting in spring 2019.

About IBM Research – Zurich

Scientists at IBM Research – Zurich have made major contributions to the advancement of knowledge in solid-state physics inspired by problems relevant to technology. Today’s research focuses on different areas of technological significance, such as photonics and optoelectronics, CMOS and post-CMOS, microfabrication, packaging and life sciences. These efforts are supported by the Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center, which offers in-house, state-of-the-art microfabrication capabilities.

With more than 100 students and young researchers (Master’s, PhDs, post-docs), our laboratory offers a dynamic and international environment for excellent science and provides a unique opportunity to extend your research skills. The laboratory equipment for the project defined in this Master’s thesis is state-of-the-art, and will allow the successful candidate to perform novel and exciting experiments.


IBM is committed to diversity at the workplace. With us you will find an open, multicultural environment. Excellent flexible working arrangements enable both women and men to strike the desired balance between their professional development and their personal lives.

How to apply

If you are interested in the project or if you want to know more about our work, please contact:
, Research Staff Member, Neuromorphic Devices & Systems.