News Column

Strange physics turns off laser

July 2, 2014



By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Journal of Engineering -- The finding by a team of researchers at Vienna University of Technology and Princeton University, could lead to new ways to manipulate the interaction of electronics and light, an important tool in modern communications networks and high-speed information processing.

The researchers published their results June 13 in the journal Nature Communications (Ref. 1).

Their system involves two tiny lasers, each one-tenth of a millimeter in diameter, or about the width of a human hair. The two are nearly touching, separated by a distance 50 times smaller than the lasers themselves. One is pumped with electric current until it starts to emit light, as is normal for lasers. Power is then added slowly to the other, but instead of it also turning on and emitting even more light, the whole system shuts off.

"This is not the normal interference that we know," said Hakan Tureci, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Princeton, referring to the common phenomenon of light waves or sound waves from two sources cancelling each other. Instead, he said, the cancellation arises from the careful distribution of energy loss within an overall system that is being amplified.

"Loss is something you normally are trying to avoid," Tureci said. "In this case, we take advantage of it and it gives us a different dimension we can use - a new tool - in controlling optical systems."

The research grows out of Tureci's longstanding work on mathematical models that describe the behavior of lasers. In 2008 (Ref. 2), he established a mathematical framework for understanding the unique properties and complex interactions that are possible in extremely small lasers - devices with features measured in micrometers or nanometers. Different from conventional desk-top lasers, these devices fit on a computer chip.

That work opened the door to manipulating gain or loss (the amplification or loss of an energy input) within a laser system. In particular, it allowed researchers to judiciously control the spatial distribution of gain and loss within a single system, with one tiny sub-area amplifying light and an immediately adjacent area absorbing the generated light.

Keywords for this news article include: Princeton University Engineering School.

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Source: Journal of Engineering


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