We present a theoretical and experimental study of high-index-contrast waveguides and basic (passive) devices built from them. Several new results are reported, but to be more comprehensive we also review some of our previous results. We focus on a ridge waveguide, whose strong lateral confinement gives it unique properties fundamentally different from the conventional weakly guiding rib waveguides. The ridge waveguides have distinct characteristics in the single-mode and the multimode regimes. The salient features of the single-mode waveguides are their subwavelength width, strong birefringence, relatively high propagation loss, and high sensitivity to wavelength as well as waveguide width, all of which may limit device performance yet provide new opportunities for novel device applications. On the other hand, wider multimode waveguides are low loss and robust. In addition, they have a critical width where the birefringence is minimal or zero, giving rise to the possibility of realizing intrinsically polarization-independent devices. They can be made effectively single mode by employing differential leakage loss (with an appropriate etch depth) or lateral mode filtering (with a taper waveguide). Together these waveguides provide the photonic wire for interconnections and the backbone to build a broad range of compact devices. We discuss basic single-mode devices (based on directional couplers) and multimode devices (multimode interferometers) and indicate their underlying relationship.
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