Programmable photonics

Meshes of interferometers have been emerging as a new paradigm in optics, allowing arbitrary linear optical circuits of high complexity that can nonetheless be stabilized and programmed, including self-configuring, self-calibrating, and self-stabilizing circuits. With emerging technologies like silicon photonics that can fabricate very complex circuits, this paradigm promises many new kinds of optical systems with a wide range of possible practical applications – in sensing, in communications, and in classical and quantum information processing.

David Miller’s research [1][15] in what is now the growing field of programmable photonics (reviewed in Ref. [16]), includes several key contributions.

He devised architectures and algorithms for interferometer meshes that allowed them to be fully self-configuring and self-stabilizing. Not only can these systems perform optical tasks beyond previous optical systems, but they can set themselves up to perform those tasks, and stabilize themselves. See

for more details.

Some of these same architectures allow us to construct arbitrary linear optical functions. In particular, he devised the “singular value decomposition” (SVD) architecture that proves for the first time that any linear optical component at a given frequency can be made.

In arithmetic terms, we are therefore able to emulate multiplication by any matrix, which is important for classical and quantum information processing. In physical terms, we can use the possibility of building such an arbitrary component in thought experiments for physical proofs. See

This has led to new physical laws, including 4 new “Kirchhoff” radiation laws, which now include all the effects of diffraction and can cover even non-reciprocal materials and objects

and a new version of Einstein’s “A&B coefficient” argument that links absorption, spontaneous emission and stimulated emission. This new version, which works mode by mode, only needs one coefficient for each mode. See

for more details.

[1] D. A. B. Miller, “Self-aligning universal beam coupler,” Opt. Express 21, 6360-6370 (2013)

[2] D. A. B. Miller, “Self-configuring universal linear optical component,” Photon. Res. 1, 1-15 (2013).

[3] Patent #10,534,189, “Universal Linear Components,” David A. B. Miller (Jan. 14, 2020)

[4] D. A. B. Miller, “Establishing optimal wave communication channels automatically,” J. Lightwave Technol. 31, 3987 – 3994 (2013)

[5] D. A. B. Miller, “Reconfigurable add-drop multiplexer for spatial modes,” Opt. Express 21, 20220-20229 (2013)

[6] D. A. B. Miller, “Perfect optics with imperfect components,” Optica  2, 747-750 (2015). Supplementary material at this link and at

[7] C. M. Wilkes, X. Qiang, J. Wang, R. Santagati, S. Paesani, X. Zhou, D. A. B. Miller, G. D. Marshall, M. G. Thompson, and J. L. O’Brien, “60  dB high-extinction auto-configured Mach–Zehnder interferometer,” Opt. Lett. 41, 5318-5321 (2016)

[8] Patent # 9,753,224, “Field-Programmable Optical Component,” David A. B. Miller (Sept. 5, 2017)

[9] A. Annoni, E. Guglielmi, M. Carminati, G. Ferrari, M. Sampietro, D. A. B. Miller, A. Melloni, and F. Morichetti, “Unscrambling light – automatically undoing strong mixing between modes,” Light Science & Applications 6, e17110 (2017)

[10] D. A. B. Miller, “Setting up meshes of interferometers – reversed local light interference method,” Opt. Express 25, 29233-29248 (2017)

[11] D. A. B. Miller, “Waves, modes, communications, and optics: a tutorial,” Adv. Opt. Photon. 11, 679-825 (2019)

[12] S. Pai, B. Bartlett, O. Solgaard, and D. A. B. Miller, “Matrix Optimization on Universal Unitary Photonic Devices,” Phys. Rev. Applied 11, 064044 (2019) – Published 19 June 2019

[13] K. Choutagunta, I. Roberts, D. A. B. Miller, and J. M. Kahn, “Adapting Mach-Zehnder Mesh Equalizers in Direct-Detection Mode-Division-Multiplexed Links,” IEEE/OSA Journal of Lightwave Technology 38, 723-735 (2020)

[14] S. Pai, I. A. D. Williamson, T. W. Hughes, M. Minkov, O. Solgaard, S. Fan, and D. A. B. Miller, “Parallel programming of an arbitrary feedforward photonic network,” IEEE J. Sel. Top. Quantum Electron. 25, 6100813 (2020)

[15] D. A. B. Miller, “Analyzing and generating multimode optical fields using self-configuring networks,” Optica 7, 794-801 (2020) Supplementary material at this link and at

[16] W. Bogaerts, D. Pérez, J. Capmany, D. A. B. Miller, J. Poon, D. Englund, F. Morichetti and A. Melloni “Programmable photonic circuits,” Nature 586, 207–216 (2020). Open access link