The data accelerator: Stefan Meister produces chips for faster internet in Adlershof

02. March 2021

The data accelerator

Stefan Meister produces chips for faster internet in Adlershof

Stefan Meister. Foto: privat

Cuts a good figure, not only as CTO of Sicoya: Stefan Meister has a passion for sailing. Photo: private

The goddess of wind of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, Oya, is also responsible for transformation. “She tears away the old,” says Stefan Meister, who could indeed compare his work to hers. The doctor of physics has been working on transforming digital data transmission for almost a decade and a half.

The African goddess also inspired the name of company, whose board he belongs to as technical director. Sicoya. It’s a portmanteau of the material their products are made of and the purpose of their business: silicon, communication, and Oya. Sicoya has been based at the Centre for Photonics and Optics on Carl-Scheele-Strasse since the beginning of 2017.

How can we process a rapidly growing volume of data, when the performance of computer chips doubles every two years, while the costs and energy consumption should stay the same? That’s the question. Meister’s reply: “Silicon photonics is the only way to achieve this.” Sicoya developed a one-of-a-kind chip for use in the data centres of large internet corporations, which combines electronics and optics, i.e., converts electric into optical impulses and vice versa.

Using conventional technology, this would require mounting several individual components on to a hard drive. By integrating them, the Sicoya chip is capable of processing 100 gigabytes of data in one second. For comparison: the chip in a conventional flash drive processes three gigabytes.

Meister has been dealing with this subject since 2007, gathering a group of highly motivated tinkerers around him as a scientific assistant at Technical University Berlin: “We started with nothing.” When Sicoya was launched in early 2015, it had 15 employees. This number grew to 35 when they moved from Charlottenburg to Adlershof. Now there are more than 100. They have now moved on from pure product development and have been “in full production mode” since last autumn.

The high-speed chip is certainly Meister’s most important project at the moment, but it certainly isn’t his only one, nor is it his first. The 50-year-old East Berlin native is a “graduate engineer for instruments engineering”, which makes him, he reckons, a worldwide rarity. When he graduated from the University of Applied Sciences in Karlshorst in 1995, his course of study was scrapped after just five years.

Meister’s earliest passion, however, is sailing. At 14, he moved from Potsdam, where his family lived, to the sports school in Berlin and trained on Müggelsee. Together with his team he won the world championship title in Austria in 1995 and took part in the Sydney Olympics five years later. Today it’s no longer about competing with the best, but about passion: “I did two regattas last year.”

By Winfried Dolderer for Adlershof Journal

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