The Laser celebrates its 50th birthday with Silicon Lasers

Wow, 50 years ago one amazing piece of technology was born – the laser. Happy Birthday! This has to be one of the most amazing technology stories. Invented in a lab, and looking for a use. No early focus groups. No market analysis. Just technology. Fast forward 50 years and the laser is now everywhere – on the planet, in the planet, beyond the planet. The world we take as everyday now just wouldn’t exist without the laser. Internet, cashier line, range finder, welding …

OPN 50th.jpgWe now have the emergence of lasers made of, and embedded in, silicon. Making them this small will open up an entire new set of possibilities. The Optics and Photonics News is running a special 50th Anniversary of the Laser edition, and hybrid silicon lasers are featured. This is a technology we are working on here in Intel Labs.

Let’s first take a quick tour through Silicon Photonics. The concept is that lasers, and their supporting optical modulators, muxes, de-muxes, detectors and waveguides are all built from Silicon. If you can achieve that, you can mass produce extremely small lasers. That both dramatically drives down costs, and opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Though the power of these lasers will be much less than those driving the backbone of the internet, their small size allows them to be integrated into computing devices that the larger lasers could fit within. Intel Labs has actively been pursuing Silicon Photonics research and is proud of the breakthroughs we have achieved. You can find more on Silicon Photonics at our website.

The hybrid silicon laser is basically a III-V material (Indium Phosphide) sitting on top of silicon. The Indium Phosphide begins to emit light when a voltage is applied to it. The light is channeled into the silicon waveguide below through evanescent coupling. The light then bounces back and forth between reflectors in the silicon waveguide, and is amplified by the InP base material. We now have a laser light source. Here is a cross section of the Hybrid Laser:

Hybrid Laser x section.jpg

There certainly are research challenges we must overcome before we can take this to production. One of the key ones is bonding the InP to the silicon. We have been developing the technology and processes that will eventually establish this for high volume manufacturing.

This sets the stage to move on to the big goal of Silicon Photonics. We will then be able to connect computing devices with this high bandwidth capability.

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