A new study by University of Toronto researchers offers the first-ever glimpse inside a laser while it’s operating, a breakthrough that could lead to more powerful and efficient lasers for fibre-optic communication systems.
“We’ve seen the inner workings of a laser in action,” says investigator Ted Sargent, a professor in the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “We’ve produced a topographical map of the landscape that electrons see as they flow into these lasers to produce light.” He says the findings could influence laser design, change the diagnosis of faulty lasers and potentially reduce manufacturing costs. The study, which will appear in the June 9 issue of the journal Applied Physics Letters, offers direct experimental insight into how lasers function, says Sargent, who holds the Nortel Networks-Canada Research Chair in Emerging Technologies.
Lasers are created by growing a complex and carefully designed series of nanometer-sized layers of crystals on a disk of semiconductor material known as a wafer, Sargent explains. Ridges are etched into the crystal surface to guide laser light, thin metal layers are added on top and bottom and the wafer is then cut into tiny cubes or chips. During the laser’s operation, an electrical current flows into the chip, providing the energy to generate intense light at a specific wavelength used in fibre-optic communications.
Nicolle Wahl | University of Toronto
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