Integrating Nanolaser On Silicon Offers A Bright Future For Previously Unattainable Technology

Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley, part of the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center headquartered at the University of Arizona, have developed a method for integrating nanolasers on silicon. This accomplishment is a crucial step toward marrying electronic devices and photonic devices, which operate by using light. By augmenting electronics with optics, powerful new functionalities can be realized.

Photonic devices provide capabilities that silicon electronics lack. An example is using optical rather electrical signals to carry much more data on and between computer chips to maintain the rapid pace of improvements in computing speed and efficiency. Lasers on silicon will enable any device that requires on-chip light sources and will open the door for exploring new, unforeseen technologies. Prospective applications include optical logic and signal processing, biochemical sensors, cost-effective silicon-based lighting and displays, and reduced cost for existing optical technology.

Silicon and III-V (i.e., compound-material) semiconductors are the respective foundations of modern electronics and photonics. Integrating these materials is therefore a promising route for implementing silicon photonics. However, material, temperature, and compatibility issues have prevented such integration thus far. The CIAN team has overcome these obstacles by working at the nanoscale to grow III-V nanopillars on silicon. The small footprint of these III-V crystals relaxes lattice-mismatch constraints, and low-growth temperatures mean that the III-V nanomaterial can be integrated onto chips after electronics fabrication in complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) laboratories.

Lasers require structures that strongly confine light inside the III-V semiconductor in order to amplify it. The nanopillar geometry possesses a natural laser cavity that traps light by circulating it up and down the nanopillar in a helical fashion. The combination of these technological achievements has resulted in nanolasers on silicon. The figure shows schematic and electron-microscope images of these novel devices.

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