Lasers made using the silicon wafers and
manufacturing facilities of computer chips would be relatively inexpensive.
Such lasers could also be easily integrated into computer chips, making
high-speed optical connections between computers economically feasible.
Researchers from Intel Corporation have moved a step forward in
the push to meld lasers and silicon chips.
Lasers stimulate the atoms of a gas or solid into emitting photons.
The result is an intense beam of a single wavelength, or color, that remains
Silicon chip lasers could eventually be used in portable biological
and chemical sensors, to amplify communications signals, and to convert
light to different wavelengths. Optical amplifiers are commonly used to
strengthen communications signals that have weakened over distance.
The researchers' prototype silicon laser uses natural atomic vibrations
in silicon to amplify light, a phenomenon known as the Raman effect. The
prototype is a proof-of-concept that shows that it is possible to leverage
the Raman effect to bring about light amplification and lasing in a silicon
chip. The researchers' prototype produced short pulses that lasted around
100 billionths of a second, or nanoseconds.
The device consists of 4.8-centimeter-long S-shaped wave guide,
or light channel, on a silicon chip. A pump laser fires light into the
wave guide at one end. A reflective coating at the other end confines
Researchers at UCLA recently produced a prototype that showed
that it is possible to use the Raman effect in a silicon laser. The UCLA
prototype, however, used an external optical fiber to contain the light.
The next step is achieving a continuous beam, according to the
Photonic devices made from silicon could be ready for commercial
use within five years, according to the researchers. The work appeared
in the January 6, 2005 issue of Nature.
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