Moore's Lobby Podcast

From Apple to OpenLight: Silicon Photonics and Integrated Lasers with Dr. Tom Mader

Episode #62 / 41:03 / April 18, 2023 by Daniel Bogdanoff
Episode Sponsor: Avnet

Dr. Tom Mader is the COO of OpenLight where they are developing an open-foundry ecosystem for silicon photonics with integrated lasers to enable advances in datacom, LiDAR, high-performance computing, AI, and even optical computing.

I’ll bet that you didn’t know that the original concept for what became the Apple Thunderbolt interface involved optical communication. Well, in this fascinating podcast with Dr. Mader, you will learn that intriguing backstory and much more. 

Mader also provides a helpful introduction to silicon photonics technology and applications. Importantly, OpenLight’s business model is designed to allow them to become an Arm-like IP provider for silicon photonics. “We’re the first open siliconics platform that has the lasers and amplifiers integrated on the chip,” explains Mader.

OpenLight enables integrated lasers with their silicon photonics IP and PDK. Image used courtesy of OpenLight 

With the OpenLight Process Design Kit (PDK), customers can integrate InP lasers and amplifiers directly into their silicon IC designs at Tower Semiconductor. While the silicon can be  employed to guide, modulate, and detect light, you need the InP to amplify. OpenLight literally brings the silicon and the InP together with molecular bonding.

While silicon photonic is already making inroads in a number of important applications, Mader is “excited about the long tail of applications” enabled by OpenLight and their customers.

In addition, Mader recounts his rich technology background that includes developing a patent while interning at Apple, being involved in an early Amazon commercial product, directing engineering at a startup that was inquired by Intel, and his family connections to the legendary Fairchild Semiconductor and our podcast’s name inspiration, Gordon Moore.

So, listen in for other interesting tidbits from this discussion with Mader, including these technical insights: 

  • A clear description of a silicon photonics system
  • What makes a quality integrated laser?
  • How amplitude modulation (AM) and phase modulation (PM) are employed is laser systems


A Big Thank You to Our Sponsors! 



Meet Tom Mader

Dr. Thomas Mader (Tom) is the Chief Operating Officer of OpenLight, developing the world’s first open silicon photonics platform with integrated lasers. OpenLight was formed in 2022 as an independent company by investments from Synopsys and Juniper Networks. Prior to the formation of OpenLight, he led the same team within Juniper Networks. 



Dr. Mader’s experience spans 27 years across the photonics and consumer electronics industries. This includes six years at Intel, where he founded Light Peak, which eventually became Thunderbolt. He also drove innovation at Amazon for six years, creating several new devices and features, such as the Amazon Dash Button.  

In addition to his work at these industry-leading companies, Dr. Mader has been an executive at four startups, including LightLogic, Picarro, Radiient, and Klue. He received his Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in electromagnetics from the University of Colorado Boulder.