Laser diode

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Diode laser.jpg
Laser diode chip.jpg
Top: a packaged laser diode shown with a penny for scale. Bottom: the laser diode chip is removed from the above package and placed on the eye of a needle for scale.
A laser diode with the case cut away. The laser diode chip is the small black chip at the front; a photodiode at the back is used to control output power. Laser diode with the case and window removed-powered off.jpg
A laser diode with the case cut away. The laser diode chip is the small black chip at the front; a photodiode at the back is used to control output power.
SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) image of a commercial laser diode with its case and window cut away. The anode connection on the right has been accidentally broken by the case cut process. Laser diode with case cut away.jpg
SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) image of a commercial laser diode with its case and window cut away. The anode connection on the right has been accidentally broken by the case cut process.

A laser diode, (LD), injection laser diode (ILD), or diode laser is a semiconductor device similar to a light-emitting diode in which a diode pumped directly with electrical current can create lasing conditions at the diode's junction. [1] :3 Laser diodes can directly convert electrical energy into light. Driven by voltage, the doped p-n-transition allows for recombination of an electron with a hole. Due to the drop of the electron from a higher energy level to a lower one, radiation, in the form of an emitted photon is generated. This is spontaneous emission. Stimulated emission can be produced when the process is continued and further generate light with the same phase, coherence and wavelength.

A semiconductor material has an electrical conductivity value falling between that of a conductor, such as metallic copper, and an insulator, such as glass. Its resistance falls as its temperature rises; metals are the opposite. Its conducting properties may be altered in useful ways by introducing impurities ("doping") into the crystal structure. Where two differently-doped regions exist in the same crystal, a semiconductor junction is created. The behavior of charge carriers which include electrons, ions and electron holes at these junctions is the basis of diodes, transistors and all modern electronics. Some examples of semiconductors are silicon, germanium, gallium arsenide, and elements near the so-called "metalloid staircase" on the periodic table. After silicon, gallium arsenide is the second most common semiconductor and is used in laser diodes, solar cells, microwave-frequency integrated circuits and others. Silicon is a critical element for fabricating most electronic circuits.

Light-emitting diode semiconductor light source

A light-emitting diode (LED) is a semiconductor light source that emits light when current flows through it. Electrons in the semiconductor recombine with electron holes, releasing energy in the form of photons. The color of the light is determined by the energy required for electrons to cross the band gap of the semiconductor. White light is obtained by using multiple semiconductors or a layer of light-emitting phosphor on the semiconductor device.

The active laser medium is the source of optical gain within a laser. The gain results from the stimulated emission of electronic or molecular transitions to a lower energy state from a higher energy state previously populated by a pump source.

Contents

The choice of the semiconductor material determines the wavelength of the emitted beam, which in today's laser diodes range from infra-red to the UV spectrum. Laser diodes are the most common type of lasers produced, with a wide range of uses that include fiber optic communications, barcode readers, laser pointers, CD/DVD/Blu-ray disc reading/recording, laser printing, laser scanning and light beam illumination. With the use of a phosphor like that found on white LEDs, Laser diodes can be used for general illumination.

Barcode reader electronic device that can read and output printed barcodes to a computer

A barcode reader is an optical scanner that can read printed barcodes, decode the data contained in the barcode and send the data to a computer. Like a flatbed scanner, it consists of a light source, a lens and a light sensor translating for optical impulses into electrical signals. Additionally, nearly all barcode readers contain decoder circuitry that can analyze the barcode's image data provided by the sensor and sending the barcode's content to the scanner's output port.

Laser pointer handheld device that emits a laser

A laser pointer or laser pen is a small handheld device with a power source and a laser diode emitting a very narrow coherent low-powered laser beam of visible light, intended to be used to highlight something of interest by illuminating it with a small bright spot of colored light. Power is restricted in most jurisdictions not to exceed 5 mW.

DVD Optical disc

DVD is a digital optical disc storage format invented and developed in 1995. The medium can store any kind of digital data and is widely used for software and other computer files as well as video programs watched using DVD players. DVDs offer higher storage capacity than compact discs while having the same dimensions.

Theory of operation of simple diode

Semi-conductor lasers (660 nm, 635 nm, 532 nm, 520 nm, 445 nm, 405 nm) Lasers.JPG
Semi-conductor lasers (660 nm, 635 nm, 532 nm, 520 nm, 445 nm, 405 nm)

A laser diode is electrically a PIN diode. The active region of the laser diode is in the intrinsic (I) region, and the carriers (electrons and holes) are pumped into that region from the N and P regions respectively. While initial diode laser research was conducted on simple P-N diodes, all modern lasers use the double-hetero-structure implementation, where the carriers and the photons are confined in order to maximize their chances for recombination and light generation. Unlike a regular diode, the goal for a laser diode is to recombine all carriers in the I region, and produce light. Thus, laser diodes are fabricated using direct band-gap semiconductors. The laser diode epitaxial structure is grown using one of the crystal growth techniques, usually starting from an N doped substrate, and growing the I doped active layer, followed by the P doped cladding, and a contact layer. The active layer most often consists of quantum wells, which provide lower threshold current and higher efficiency. [1] [ page needed ]

A PIN diode is a diode with a wide, undoped intrinsic semiconductor region between a p-type semiconductor and an n-type semiconductor region. The p-type and n-type regions are typically heavily doped because they are used for ohmic contacts.

Direct and indirect band gaps Types of band gaps

In semiconductor physics, the band gap of a semiconductor can be of two basic types, a direct band gap or an indirect band gap. The minimal-energy state in the conduction band and the maximal-energy state in the valence band are each characterized by a certain crystal momentum (k-vector) in the Brillouin zone. If the k-vectors are different, the material has an "indirect gap". The band gap is called "direct" if the crystal momentum of electrons and holes is the same in both the conduction band and the valence band; an electron can directly emit a photon. In an "indirect" gap, a photon cannot be emitted because the electron must pass through an intermediate state and transfer momentum to the crystal lattice.

Crystal growth major stage of a crystallization process, and consists in the addition of new atoms, ions, or polymer strings into the characteristic arrangement of a crystalline Bravais lattice

Crystal growth, is the process where a pre-existing crystal becomes larger as more molecules or ions add in their positions in the crystal lattice or a solution is developed into a crystal and further growth is processed. A crystal is defined as being atoms, molecules, or ions arranged in an orderly repeating pattern, a crystal lattice, extending in all three spatial dimensions. So crystal growth differs from growth of a liquid droplet in that during growth the molecules or ions must fall into the correct lattice positions in order for a well-ordered crystal to grow. The schematic shows a very simple example of a crystal with a simple cubic lattice growing by the addition of one additional molecule.

Electrical and optical pumping

Laser diodes form a subset of the larger classification of semiconductor p-n junction diodes. Forward electrical bias across the laser diode causes the two species of charge carrierholes and electrons – to be "injected" from opposite sides of the p-n junction into the depletion region. Holes are injected from the p-doped, and electrons from the n-doped, semiconductor. (A depletion region, devoid of any charge carriers, forms as a result of the difference in electrical potential between n- and p-type semiconductors wherever they are in physical contact.) Due to the use of charge injection in powering most diode lasers, this class of lasers is sometimes termed "injection lasers," or "injection laser diode" (ILD). As diode lasers are semiconductor devices, they may also be classified as semiconductor lasers. Either designation distinguishes diode lasers from solid-state lasers.

In physics, a charge carrier is a particle or quasiparticle that is free to move, carrying an electric charge, especially the particles that carry electric charges in electrical conductors. Examples are electrons, ions and holes. In a conducting medium, an electric field can exert force on these free particles, causing a net motion of the particles through the medium; this is what constitutes an electric current. In conducting media, particles serve to carry charge:

Electron hole conceptual and mathematical opposite of an electron

In physics, chemistry, and electronic engineering, an electron hole is the lack of an electron at a position where one could exist in an atom or atomic lattice. Since in a normal atom or crystal lattice the negative charge of the electrons is balanced by the positive charge of the atomic nuclei, the absence of an electron leaves a net positive charge at the hole's location. Holes are not actually particles, but rather quasiparticles; they are different from the positron, which is the antiparticle of the electron.

A solid-state laser is a laser that uses a gain medium that is a solid, rather than a liquid as in dye lasers or a gas as in gas lasers. Semiconductor-based lasers are also in the solid state, but are generally considered as a separate class from solid-state lasers.

Another method of powering some diode lasers is the use of optical pumping. Optically pumped semiconductor lasers (OPSL) use a III-V semiconductor chip as the gain medium, and another laser (often another diode laser) as the pump source. OPSL offer several advantages over ILDs, particularly in wavelength selection and lack of interference from internal electrode structures. [2] [3] A further advantage of OPSLs is invariance of the beam parameters - divergence, shape, and pointing - as pump power (and hence output power) is varied, even over a 10:1 output power ratio. [4]

Optical pumping Method of population inversion

Optical pumping is a process in which light is used to raise electrons from a lower energy level in an atom or molecule to a higher one. It is commonly used in laser construction, to pump the active laser medium so as to achieve population inversion. The technique was developed by 1966 Nobel Prize winner Alfred Kastler in the early 1950s.

Generation of spontaneous emission

When an electron and a hole are present in the same region, they may recombine or "annihilate" producing a spontaneous emission — i.e., the electron may re-occupy the energy state of the hole, emitting a photon with energy equal to the difference between the electron's original state and hole's state. (In a conventional semiconductor junction diode, the energy released from the recombination of electrons and holes is carried away as phonons, i.e., lattice vibrations, rather than as photons.) Spontaneous emission below the lasing threshold produces similar properties to an LED. Spontaneous emission is necessary to initiate laser oscillation, but it is one among several sources of inefficiency once the laser is oscillating.

Spontaneous emission is the process in which a quantum mechanical system transitions from an excited energy state to a lower energy state and emits a quantised amount of energy in the form of a photon. Spontaneous emission is ultimately responsible for most of the light we see all around us; it is so ubiquitous that there are many names given to what is essentially the same process. If atoms are excited by some means other than heating, the spontaneous emission is called luminescence. For example, fireflies are luminescent. And there are different forms of luminescence depending on how excited atoms are produced. If the excitation is affected by the absorption of radiation the spontaneous emission is called fluorescence. Sometimes molecules have a metastable level and continue to fluoresce long after the exciting radiation is turned off; this is called phosphorescence. Figurines that glow in the dark are phosphorescent. Lasers start via spontaneous emission, then during continuous operation work by stimulated emission.

In physics, a phonon is a collective excitation in a periodic, elastic arrangement of atoms or molecules in condensed matter, specifically in solids and some liquids. Often designated a quasiparticle, it represents an excited state in the quantum mechanical quantization of the modes of vibrations of elastic structures of interacting particles.

The lasing threshold is the lowest excitation level at which a laser's output is dominated by stimulated emission rather than by spontaneous emission. Below the threshold, the laser's output power rises slowly with increasing excitation. Above threshold, the slope of power vs. excitation is orders of magnitude greater. The linewidth of the laser's emission also becomes orders of magnitude smaller above the threshold than it is below. Above the threshold, the laser is said to be lasing. The term "lasing" is a back formation from "laser," which is an acronym, not an agent noun.

Direct and indirect bandgap semiconductors

The difference between the photon-emitting semiconductor laser and a conventional phonon-emitting (non-light-emitting) semiconductor junction diode lies in the type of semiconductor used, one whose physical and atomic structure confers the possibility for photon emission. These photon-emitting semiconductors are the so-called "direct bandgap" semiconductors. The properties of silicon and germanium, which are single-element semiconductors, have bandgaps that do not align in the way needed to allow photon emission and are not considered "direct." Other materials, the so-called compound semiconductors, have virtually identical crystalline structures as silicon or germanium but use alternating arrangements of two different atomic species in a checkerboard-like pattern to break the symmetry. The transition between the materials in the alternating pattern creates the critical "direct bandgap" property. Gallium arsenide, indium phosphide, gallium antimonide, and gallium nitride are all examples of compound semiconductor materials that can be used to create junction diodes that emit light.

Diagram of a simple laser diode, such as shown above; not to scale Simple laser diode.svg
Diagram of a simple laser diode, such as shown above; not to scale
A simple and low power metal enclosed laser diode Metal covered Laser diode switched on.jpg
A simple and low power metal enclosed laser diode

Generation of stimulated emission

In the absence of stimulated emission (e.g., lasing) conditions, electrons and holes may coexist in proximity to one another, without recombining, for a certain time, termed the "upper-state lifetime" or "recombination time" (about a nanosecond for typical diode laser materials), before they recombine. A nearby photon with energy equal to the recombination energy can cause recombination by stimulated emission. This generates another photon of the same frequency, polarization, and phase, travelling in the same direction as the first photon. This means that stimulated emission will cause gain in an optical wave (of the correct wavelength) in the injection region, and the gain increases as the number of electrons and holes injected across the junction increases. The spontaneous and stimulated emission processes are vastly more efficient in direct bandgap semiconductors than in indirect bandgap semiconductors; therefore silicon is not a common material for laser diodes.

Optical cavity and laser modes

As in other lasers, the gain region is surrounded with an optical cavity to form a laser. In the simplest form of laser diode, an optical waveguide is made on that crystal's surface, such that the light is confined to a relatively narrow line. The two ends of the crystal are cleaved to form perfectly smooth, parallel edges, forming a Fabry–Pérot resonator. Photons emitted into a mode of the waveguide will travel along the waveguide and be reflected several times from each end face before they exit. As a light wave passes through the cavity, it is amplified by stimulated emission, but light is also lost due to absorption and by incomplete reflection from the end facets. Finally, if there is more amplification than loss, the diode begins to "lase".

Some important properties of laser diodes are determined by the geometry of the optical cavity. Generally, the light is contained within a very thin layer, and the structure supports only a single optical mode in the direction perpendicular to the layers. In the transverse direction, if the waveguide is wide compared to the wavelength of light, then the waveguide can support multiple transverse optical modes, and the laser is known as "multi-mode". These transversely multi-mode lasers are adequate in cases where one needs a very large amount of power, but not a small diffraction-limited beam; for example in printing, activating chemicals, or pumping other types of lasers.

In applications where a small focused beam is needed, the waveguide must be made narrow, on the order of the optical wavelength. This way, only a single transverse mode is supported and one ends up with a diffraction-limited beam. Such single spatial mode devices are used for optical storage, laser pointers, and fiber optics. Note that these lasers may still support multiple longitudinal modes, and thus can lase at multiple wavelengths simultaneously. The wavelength emitted is a function of the band-gap of the semiconductor material and the modes of the optical cavity. In general, the maximum gain will occur for photons with energy slightly above the band-gap energy, and the modes nearest the peak of the gain curve will lase most strongly. The width of the gain curve will determine the number of additional "side modes" that may also lase, depending on the operating conditions. Single spatial mode lasers that can support multiple longitudinal modes are called Fabry Perot (FP) lasers. An FP laser will lase at multiple cavity modes within the gain bandwidth of the lasing medium. The number of lasing modes in an FP laser is usually unstable, and can fluctuate due to changes in current or temperature.

Single spatial mode diode lasers can be designed so as to operate on a single longitudinal mode. These single frequency diode lasers exhibit a high degree of stability, and are used in spectroscopy and metrology, and as frequency references. Single frequency diode lasers are classed as either distributed feedback (DFB) lasers or distributed Bragg reflector (DBR) lasers.

Formation of laser beam

Due to diffraction, the beam diverges (expands) rapidly after leaving the chip, typically at 30 degrees vertically by 10 degrees laterally. A lens must be used in order to form a collimated beam like that produced by a laser pointer. If a circular beam is required, cylindrical lenses and other optics are used. For single spatial mode lasers, using symmetrical lenses, the collimated beam ends up being elliptical in shape, due to the difference in the vertical and lateral divergences. This is easily observable with a red laser pointer.

The simple diode described above has been heavily modified in recent years to accommodate modern technology, resulting in a variety of types of laser diodes, as described below.

Types

The simple laser diode structure, described above, is extremely inefficient. Such devices require so much power that they can only achieve pulsed operation without damage. Although historically important and easy to explain, such devices are not practical.

Double heterostructure lasers

Diagram of front view of a double heterostructure laser diode; not to scale Simple dh laser diode.svg
Diagram of front view of a double heterostructure laser diode; not to scale

In these devices, a layer of low bandgap material is sandwiched between two high bandgap layers. One commonly-used pair of materials is gallium arsenide (GaAs) with aluminium gallium arsenide (AlxGa(1-x)As). Each of the junctions between different bandgap materials is called a heterostructure , hence the name "double heterostructure laser" or DH laser. The kind of laser diode described in the first part of the article may be referred to as a homojunction laser, for contrast with these more popular devices.

The advantage of a DH laser is that the region where free electrons and holes exist simultaneously—the active region—is confined to the thin middle layer. This means that many more of the electron-hole pairs can contribute to amplification—not so many are left out in the poorly amplifying periphery. In addition, light is reflected within the heterojunction; hence, the light is confined to the region where the amplification takes place.

Quantum well lasers

Diagram of front view of a simple quantum well laser diode; not to scale Simple qw laser diode.svg
Diagram of front view of a simple quantum well laser diode; not to scale

If the middle layer is made thin enough, it acts as a quantum well. This means that the vertical variation of the electron's wavefunction, and thus a component of its energy, is quantized. The efficiency of a quantum well laser is greater than that of a bulk laser because the density of states function of electrons in the quantum well system has an abrupt edge that concentrates electrons in energy states that contribute to laser action.

Lasers containing more than one quantum well layer are known as multiple quantum well lasers. Multiple quantum wells improve the overlap of the gain region with the optical waveguide mode.

Further improvements in the laser efficiency have also been demonstrated by reducing the quantum well layer to a quantum wire or to a "sea" of quantum dots.

Quantum cascade lasers

In a quantum cascade laser, the difference between quantum well energy levels is used for the laser transition instead of the bandgap. This enables laser action at relatively long wavelengths, which can be tuned simply by altering the thickness of the layer. They are heterojunction lasers.

Interband cascade lasers

A Interband cascade laser (ICL) is a type of laser diode that can produce coherent radiation over a large part of the mid-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Separate confinement heterostructure lasers

Diagram of front view of a separate confinement heterostructure quantum well laser diode; not to scale Simple sch laser diode.svg
Diagram of front view of a separate confinement heterostructure quantum well laser diode; not to scale

The problem with the simple quantum well diode described above is that the thin layer is simply too small to effectively confine the light. To compensate, another two layers are added on, outside the first three. These layers have a lower refractive index than the centre layers, and hence confine the light effectively. Such a design is called a separate confinement heterostructure (SCH) laser diode.

Almost all commercial laser diodes since the 1990s have been SCH quantum well diodes. [ citation needed ]

Distributed Bragg Reflector lasers

A distributed Bragg reflector laser (DBR) is a type of single frequency laser diode. [5] It is characterized by an optical cavity consisting of an electrically or optically pumped gain region between two mirrors to provide feedback. One of the mirrors is a broadband reflector and the other mirror is wavelength selective so that gain is favored on a single longitudinal mode, resulting in lasing at a single resonant frequency. The broadband mirror is usually coated with a low reflectivity coating to allow emission. The wavelength selective mirror is a periodically structured diffraction grating with high reflectivity. The diffraction grating is within a non-pumped, or passive region of the cavity . A DBR laser is a monolithic single chip device with the grating etched into the semiconductor. DBR lasers can be edge emitting lasers or VCSELs. Alternative hybrid architectures that share the same topology include extended cavity diode lasers and volume Bragg grating lasers, but these are not properly called DBR lasers.

Distributed feedback lasers

A distributed feedback laser (DFB) is a type of single frequency laser diode. [5] DFBs are the most common transmitter type in DWDM-systems. To stabilize the lasing wavelength, a diffraction grating is etched close to the p-n junction of the diode. This grating acts like an optical filter, causing a single wavelength to be fed back to the gain region and lase. Since the grating provides the feedback that is required for lasing, reflection from the facets is not required. Thus, at least one facet of a DFB is anti-reflection coated. The DFB laser has a stable wavelength that is set during manufacturing by the pitch of the grating, and can only be tuned slightly with temperature. DFB lasers are widely used in optical communication applications where a precise and stable wavelength is critical.

The threshold current of this DFB laser, based on its static characteristic, is around 11 mA. The appropriate bias current in a linear regime could be taken in the middle of the static characteristic (50 mA).Several techniques have been proposed in order to enhance the single-mode operation in these kinds of lasers by inserting an onephase-shift (1PS) or multiple-phase-shift (MPS) in the uniform Bragg grating. [6] However, multiple-phase-shift DFB lasers represent the optimal solution because they have the combination of higher side-mode suppression ratio and reduced spatial hole-burning.

Vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser

Diagram of a simple VCSEL structure; not to scale Simple vcsel.svg
Diagram of a simple VCSEL structure; not to scale

Vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) have the optical cavity axis along the direction of current flow rather than perpendicular to the current flow as in conventional laser diodes. The active region length is very short compared with the lateral dimensions so that the radiation emerges from the surface of the cavity rather than from its edge as shown in the figure. The reflectors at the ends of the cavity are dielectric mirrors made from alternating high and low refractive index quarter-wave thick multilayer.

Such dielectric mirrors provide a high degree of wavelength-selective reflectance at the required free surface wavelength λ if the thicknesses of alternating layers d1 and d2 with refractive indices n1 and n2 are such that n1d1 + n2d2 = λ/2 which then leads to the constructive interference of all partially reflected waves at the interfaces. But there is a disadvantage: because of the high mirror reflectivities, VCSELs have lower output powers when compared to edge-emitting lasers.

There are several advantages to producing VCSELs when compared with the production process of edge-emitting lasers. Edge-emitters cannot be tested until the end of the production process. If the edge-emitter does not work, whether due to bad contacts or poor material growth quality, the production time and the processing materials have been wasted.

Additionally, because VCSELs emit the beam perpendicular to the active region of the laser as opposed to parallel as with an edge emitter, tens of thousands of VCSELs can be processed simultaneously on a three-inch gallium arsenide wafer. Furthermore, even though the VCSEL production process is more labor- and material-intensive, the yield can be controlled to a more predictable outcome. However, they normally show a lower power output level.

Vertical-external-cavity surface-emitting-laser

Vertical external-cavity surface-emitting lasers, or VECSELs, are similar to VCSELs. In VCSELs, the mirrors are typically grown epitaxially as part of the diode structure, or grown separately and bonded directly to the semiconductor containing the active region. VECSELs are distinguished by a construction in which one of the two mirrors is external to the diode structure. As a result, the cavity includes a free-space region. A typical distance from the diode to the external mirror would be 1 cm.

One of the most interesting features of any VECSEL is the small thickness of the semiconductor gain region in the direction of propagation, less than 100 nm. In contrast, a conventional in-plane semiconductor laser entails light propagation over distances of from 250 µm upward to 2 mm or longer. The significance of the short propagation distance is that it causes the effect of "antiguiding" nonlinearities in the diode laser gain region to be minimized. The result is a large-cross-section single-mode optical beam which is not attainable from in-plane ("edge-emitting") diode lasers.

Several workers demonstrated optically pumped VECSELs, and they continue to be developed for many applications including high power sources for use in industrial machining (cutting, punching, etc.) because of their unusually high power and efficiency when pumped by multi-mode diode laser bars. However, because of their lack of p-n junction, optically-pumped VECSELs are not considered "diode lasers", and are classified as semiconductor lasers.[ citation needed ]

Electrically pumped VECSELs have also been demonstrated. Applications for electrically pumped VECSELs include projection displays, served by frequency doubling of near-IR VECSEL emitters to produce blue and green light.

External-cavity diode lasers

External-cavity diode lasers are tunable lasers which use mainly double heterostructures diodes of the AlxGa(1-x)As type. The first external-cavity diode lasers used intracavity etalons [7] and simple tuning Littrow gratings. [8] Other designs include gratings in grazing-incidence configuration and multiple-prism grating configurations. [9]

Failure mechanisms

Laser diodes have the same reliability and failure issues as light emitting diodes. In addition they are subject to catastrophic optical damage (COD) when operated at higher power.

Many of the advances in reliability of diode lasers in the last 20 years remain proprietary to their developers. Reverse engineering is not always able to reveal the differences between more-reliable and less-reliable diode laser products.

Semiconductor lasers can be surface-emitting lasers such as VCSELs, or in-plane edge-emitting lasers. For edge-emitting lasers, the edge facet mirror is often formed by cleaving the semiconductor wafer to form a specularly reflecting plane. [1] :24 This approach is facilitated by the weakness of the [110] crystallographic plane in III-V semiconductor crystals (such as GaAs, InP, GaSb, etc.) compared to other planes.

The atomic states at the cleavage plane are altered compared to their bulk properties within the crystal by the termination of the perfectly periodic lattice at that plane. Surface states at the cleaved plane have energy levels within the (otherwise forbidden) bandgap of the semiconductor.

As a result, when light propagates through the cleavage plane and transits to free space from within the semiconductor crystal, a fraction of the light energy is absorbed by the surface states where it is converted to heat by phonon-electron interactions. This heats the cleaved mirror. In addition, the mirror may heat simply because the edge of the diode laser—which is electrically pumped—is in less-than-perfect contact with the mount that provides a path for heat removal. The heating of the mirror causes the bandgap of the semiconductor to shrink in the warmer areas. The bandgap shrinkage brings more electronic band-to-band transitions into alignment with the photon energy causing yet more absorption. This is thermal runaway, a form of positive feedback, and the result can be melting of the facet, known as catastrophic optical damage, or COD.

In the 1970s, this problem, which is particularly nettlesome for GaAs-based lasers emitting between 0.630 µm and 1 µm wavelengths (less so for InP-based lasers used for long-haul telecommunications which emit between 1.3 µm and 2 µm), was identified. Michael Ettenberg, a researcher and later Vice President at RCA Laboratories' David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton, New Jersey, devised a solution. A thin layer of aluminum oxide was deposited on the facet. If the aluminum oxide thickness is chosen correctly, it functions as an anti-reflective coating, reducing reflection at the surface. This alleviated the heating and COD at the facet.

Since then, various other refinements have been employed. One approach is to create a so-called non-absorbing mirror (NAM) such that the final 10 µm or so before the light emits from the cleaved facet are rendered non-absorbing at the wavelength of interest.

In the very early 1990s, SDL, Inc. began supplying high power diode lasers with good reliability characteristics. CEO Donald Scifres and CTO David Welch presented new reliability performance data at, e.g., SPIE Photonics West conferences of the era. The methods used by SDL to defeat COD were considered to be highly proprietary and were still undisclosed publicly as of June 2006.

In the mid-1990s, IBM Research (Ruschlikon, Switzerland) announced that it had devised its so-called "E2 process" which conferred extraordinary resistance to COD in GaAs-based lasers. This process, too, was undisclosed as of June 2006.

Reliability of high-power diode laser pump bars (used to pump solid-state lasers) remains a difficult problem in a variety of applications, in spite of these proprietary advances. Indeed, the physics of diode laser failure is still being worked out and research on this subject remains active, if proprietary.

Extension of the lifetime of laser diodes is critical to their continued adaptation to a wide variety of applications.

Applications

Laser diodes can be arrayed to produce very high power outputs, continuous wave or pulsed. Such arrays may be used to efficiently pump solid-state lasers for high average power drilling, burning or for inertial confinement fusion. Laser diode array.jpg
Laser diodes can be arrayed to produce very high power outputs, continuous wave or pulsed. Such arrays may be used to efficiently pump solid-state lasers for high average power drilling, burning or for inertial confinement fusion.

Laser diodes are numerically the most common laser type, with 2004 sales of approximately 733 million units, [10] as compared to 131,000 of other types of lasers. [11]

Telecommunications, scanning and spectrometry

Laser diodes find wide use in telecommunication as easily modulated and easily coupled light sources for fiber optics communication. They are used in various measuring instruments, such as rangefinders. Another common use is in barcode readers. Visible lasers, typically red but later also green, are common as laser pointers. Both low and high-power diodes are used extensively in the printing industry both as light sources for scanning (input) of images and for very high-speed and high-resolution printing plate (output) manufacturing. Infrared and red laser diodes are common in CD players, CD-ROMs and DVD technology. Violet lasers are used in HD DVD and Blu-ray technology. Diode lasers have also found many applications in laser absorption spectrometry (LAS) for high-speed, low-cost assessment or monitoring of the concentration of various species in gas phase. High-power laser diodes are used in industrial applications such as heat treating, cladding, seam welding and for pumping other lasers, such as diode-pumped solid-state lasers.

Uses of laser diodes can be categorized in various ways. Most applications could be served by larger solid-state lasers or optical parametric oscillators, but the low cost of mass-produced diode lasers makes them essential for mass-market applications. Diode lasers can be used in a great many fields; since light has many different properties (power, wavelength, spectral and beam quality, polarization, etc.) it is useful to classify applications by these basic properties.

Many applications of diode lasers primarily make use of the "directed energy" property of an optical beam. In this category, one might include the laser printers, barcode readers, image scanning, illuminators, designators, optical data recording, combustion ignition, laser surgery, industrial sorting, industrial machining, and directed energy weaponry. Some of these applications are well-established while others are emerging.

Medical uses

Laser medicine: medicine and especially dentistry have found many new uses for diode lasers. [12] [13] [14] [15] The shrinking size and cost [16] of the units and their increasing user friendliness makes them very attractive to clinicians for minor soft tissue procedures. Diode wavelengths range from 810 to 1,100 nm, are poorly absorbed by soft tissue, and are not used for cutting or ablation. [17] [18] [19] [20] Soft tissue is not cut by the laser's beam, but is instead cut by contact with a hot charred glass tip. [19] [20] The laser's irradiation is highly absorbed at the distal end of the tip and heats it up to 500 °C to 900 °C. [19] Because the tip is so hot, it can be used to cut soft-tissue and can cause hemostasis through cauterization and carbonization. [19] [20] Diode lasers when used on soft tissue can cause extensive collateral thermal damage to surrounding tissue. [19] [20]

As laser beam light is inherently coherent, certain applications utilize the coherence of laser diodes. These include interferometric distance measurement, holography, coherent communications, and coherent control of chemical reactions.

Laser diodes are used for their "narrow spectral" properties in the areas of range-finding, telecommunications, infra-red countermeasures, spectroscopic sensing, generation of radio-frequency or terahertz waves, atomic clock state preparation, quantum key cryptography, frequency doubling and conversion, water purification (in the UV), and photodynamic therapy (where a particular wavelength of light would cause a substance such as porphyrin to become chemically active as an anti-cancer agent only where the tissue is illuminated by light).

Laser diodes are used for their ability to generate ultra-short pulses of light by the technique known as "mode-locking." Areas of use include clock distribution for high-performance integrated circuits, high-peak-power sources for laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy sensing, arbitrary waveform generation for radio-frequency waves, photonic sampling for analog-to-digital conversion, and optical code-division-multiple-access systems for secure communication.

Common wavelengths and uses

Visible light

Infrared

History

As early as 1953 John von Neumann described the concept of semiconductor laser in an unpublished manuscript. In 1957, Japanese engineer Jun-ichi Nishizawa filed a patent for the first semiconductor laser. [22] [23] It was an advancement of his earlier inventions, the PIN diode in 1950 and the solid-state maser in 1955. [23]

Following theoretical treatments of M.G. Bernard, G. Duraffourg and William P. Dumke in the early 1960s coherent light emission from a gallium arsenide (GaAs) semiconductor diode (a laser diode) was demonstrated in 1962 by two US groups led by Robert N. Hall at the General Electric research center [24] and by Marshall Nathan at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center. [25] There has been ongoing debate as to whether IBM or GE invented the first laser diode which was largely based on theoretical work by William P. Dumke at IBM Labs in Yonkers, NY. The priority is given to General Electric group who have obtained and submitted their results earlier; they also went further and made a resonant cavity for their diode. [26] It was initially speculated, by MIT's Ben Lax among other leading physicists, that silicon or germanium could be used to create a lasing effect, but theoretical analyses convinced William P. Dumke that these materials would not work. Instead, he suggested Gallium Arsenide as a good candidate. The first visible wavelength GaAs laser diode was demonstrated by Nick Holonyak, Jr. later in 1962. [27]

Nick Holonyak Nick Holonyak Jr.jpg
Nick Holonyak

Other teams at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Texas Instruments, and RCA Laboratories were also involved in and received credit for their historic initial demonstrations of efficient light emission and lasing in semiconductor diodes in 1962 and thereafter. GaAs lasers were also produced in early 1963 in the Soviet Union by the team led by Nikolay Basov. [28]

In the early 1960s liquid phase epitaxy (LPE) was invented by Herbert Nelson of RCA Laboratories. By layering the highest quality crystals of varying compositions, it enabled the demonstration of the highest quality heterojunction semiconductor laser materials for many years. LPE was adopted by all the leading laboratories, worldwide and used for many years. It was finally supplanted in the 1970s by molecular beam epitaxy and organometallic chemical vapor deposition.

Diode lasers of that era operated with threshold current densities of 1000 A/cm2 at 77 K temperatures. Such performance enabled continuous-lasing to be demonstrated in the earliest days. However, when operated at room temperature, about 300 K, threshold current densities were two orders of magnitude greater, or 100,000 A/cm2 in the best devices. The dominant challenge for the remainder of the 1960s was to obtain low threshold current density at 300 K and thereby to demonstrate continuous-wave lasing at room temperature from a diode laser.

The first diode lasers were homojunction diodes. That is, the material (and thus the bandgap) of the waveguide core layer and that of the surrounding clad layers, were identical. It was recognized that there was an opportunity, particularly afforded by the use of liquid phase epitaxy using aluminum gallium arsenide, to introduce heterojunctions. Heterostructures consist of layers of semiconductor crystal having varying bandgap and refractive index. Heterojunctions (formed from heterostructures) had been recognized by Herbert Kroemer, while working at RCA Laboratories in the mid-1950s, as having unique advantages for several types of electronic and optoelectronic devices including diode lasers. LPE afforded the technology of making heterojunction diode lasers. In 1963 he proposed the double heterostructure laser.

The first heterojunction diode lasers were single-heterojunction lasers. These lasers utilized aluminum gallium arsenide p-type injectors situated over n-type gallium arsenide layers grown on the substrate by LPE. An admixture of aluminum replaced gallium in the semiconductor crystal and raised the bandgap of the p-type injector over that of the n-type layers beneath. It worked; the 300 K threshold currents went down by 10× to 10,000 amperes per square centimeter. Unfortunately, this was still not in the needed range and these single-heterostructure diode lasers did not function in continuous wave operation at room temperature.

The innovation that met the room temperature challenge was the double heterostructure laser. The trick was to quickly move the wafer in the LPE apparatus between different "melts" of aluminum gallium arsenide (p- and n-type) and a third melt of gallium arsenide. It had to be done rapidly since the gallium arsenide core region needed to be significantly under 1 µm in thickness. The first laser diode to achieve continuous wave operation was a double heterostructure demonstrated in 1970 essentially simultaneously by Zhores Alferov and collaborators (including Dmitri Z. Garbuzov) of the Soviet Union, and Morton Panish and Izuo Hayashi working in the United States. However, it is widely accepted that Zhores I. Alferov and team reached the milestone first. [29]

For their accomplishment and that of their co-workers, Alferov and Kroemer shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics.

See also

Related Research Articles

Optical amplifier device that amplifies an optical signal

An optical amplifier is a device that amplifies an optical signal directly, without the need to first convert it to an electrical signal. An optical amplifier may be thought of as a laser without an optical cavity, or one in which feedback from the cavity is suppressed. Optical amplifiers are important in optical communication and laser physics. They are used as optical repeaters in the long distance fiberoptic cables which carry much of the world's telecommunication links.

Aluminium gallium arsenide alloy

Aluminium gallium arsenide (AlxGa1−xAs) is a semiconductor material with very nearly the same lattice constant as GaAs, but a larger bandgap. The x in the formula above is a number between 0 and 1 - this indicates an arbitrary alloy between GaAs and AlAs.

Band gap energy range in a solid where no electron states can exist; energy difference (in electron volts) between the top of the valence band and the bottom of the conduction band in insulators and semiconductors

In solid-state physics, a band gap, also called an energy gap or bandgap, is an energy range in a solid where no electron states can exist. In graphs of the electronic band structure of solids, the band gap generally refers to the energy difference between the top of the valence band and the bottom of the conduction band in insulators and semiconductors. It is the energy required to promote a valence electron bound to an atom to become a conduction electron, which is free to move within the crystal lattice and serve as a charge carrier to conduct electric current. It is closely related to the HOMO/LUMO gap in chemistry. If the valence band is completely full and the conduction band is completely empty, then electrons cannot move in the solid; however, if some electrons transfer from the valence to the conduction band, then current can flow. Therefore, the band gap is a major factor determining the electrical conductivity of a solid. Substances with large band gaps are generally insulators, those with smaller band gaps are semiconductors, while conductors either have very small band gaps or none, because the valence and conduction bands overlap.

Gallium arsenide chemical compound

Gallium arsenide (GaAs) is a compound of the elements gallium and arsenic. It is a III-V direct band gap semiconductor with a zinc blende crystal structure.

Vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser

The vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser, or VCSEL, is a type of semiconductor laser diode with laser beam emission perpendicular from the top surface, contrary to conventional edge-emitting semiconductor lasers which emit from surfaces formed by cleaving the individual chip out of a wafer. VCSELs are used in various laser products, including computer mice, fiber optic communications, laser printers, Face ID, and smartglasses.

Tunable laser

A tunable laser is a laser whose wavelength of operation can be altered in a controlled manner. While all laser gain media allow small shifts in output wavelength, only a few types of lasers allow continuous tuning over a significant wavelength range.

A vertical-external-cavity surface-emitting-laser (VECSEL) is a small semiconductor laser similar to a vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL). VECSELs are used primarily as near infrared devices in laser cooling and spectroscopy, but have also been explored for applications such as telecommunications.

Blue laser

A blue laser is a laser that emits electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength between 360 and 480 nanometres, which the human eye sees as blue or violet.

Indium gallium phosphide (InGaP), also called gallium indium phosphide (GaInP), is a semiconductor composed of indium, gallium and phosphorus. It is used in high-power and high-frequency electronics because of its superior electron velocity with respect to the more common semiconductors silicon and gallium arsenide.

Quantum cascade lasers (QCLs) are semiconductor lasers that emit in the mid- to far-infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum and were first demonstrated by Jerome Faist, Federico Capasso, Deborah Sivco, Carlo Sirtori, Albert Hutchinson, and Alfred Cho at Bell Laboratories in 1994.

Indium gallium nitride chemical compound

Indium gallium nitride is a semiconductor material made of a mix of gallium nitride (GaN) and indium nitride (InN). It is a ternary group III/group V direct bandgap semiconductor. Its bandgap can be tuned by varying the amount of indium in the alloy. InxGa1−xN has a direct bandgap span from the infrared for InN to the ultraviolet of GaN. The ratio of In/Ga is usually between 0.02/0.98 and 0.3/0.7.

Indium arsenide chemical compound

Indium arsenide, InAs, or indium monoarsenide, is a semiconductor composed of indium and arsenic. It has the appearance of grey cubic crystals with a melting point of 942 °C.

A hybrid silicon laser is a semiconductor laser fabricated from both silicon and group III-V semiconductor materials. The hybrid silicon laser was developed to address the lack of a silicon laser to enable fabrication of low-cost, mass-producible silicon optical devices. The hybrid approach takes advantage of the light-emitting properties of III-V semiconductor materials combined with the process maturity of silicon to fabricate electrically driven lasers on a silicon wafer that can be integrated with other silicon photonic devices.

Sound amplification by stimulated emission of radiation

Sound amplification by stimulated emission of radiation (SASER) refers to a device that emits acoustic radiation. It focuses sound waves in a way that they can serve as accurate and high-speed carriers of information in many kinds of applications—similar to uses of laser light.

A distributed feedback laser (DFB) is a type of laser diode, quantum cascade laser or optical fiber laser where the active region of the device contains a periodically structured element or diffraction grating. The structure builds a one-dimensional interference grating and the grating provides optical feedback for the laser. This longitudinal diffraction grating has periodic changes in refractive index that cause reflection back into the cavity. The periodic change can be either in the real part of the refractive index, or in the imaginary part. The strongest grating operates in the first order - where the periodicity is one-half wave, and the light is reflected backwards. DFB lasers tend to be much more stable than Fabry-Perot or DBR lasers and are used frequently when clean single mode operation is needed, especially in high speed fiber optic telecommunications. Semiconductor DFB lasers in the lowest loss window of optical fibers at about 1.55um wavelength, amplified by Erbium-doped fiber amplifiers (EDFAs), dominate the long distance communication market, while DFB lasers in the lowest dispersion window at 1.3um are used at shorter distances.

A quantum well laser is a laser diode in which the active region of the device is so narrow that quantum confinement occurs. Laser diodes are formed in compound semiconductor materials that are able to emit light efficiently. The wavelength of the light emitted by a quantum well laser is determined by the width of the active region rather than just the bandgap of the material from which it is constructed. This means that much shorter wavelengths can be obtained from quantum well lasers than from conventional laser diodes using a particular semiconductor material. The efficiency of a quantum well laser is also greater than a conventional laser diode due to the stepwise form of its density of states function.

A superluminescent diode is an edge-emitting semiconductor light source based on superluminescence. It combines the high power and brightness of laser diodes with the low coherence of conventional light-emitting diodes. Its emission band is 5–700 nm wide.

Interband cascade laser

Interband cascade lasers (ICLs) are a type of laser diode that can produce coherent radiation over a large part of the mid-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. They are fabricated from epitaxially-grown semiconductor heterostructures composed of layers of indium arsenide (InAs), gallium antimonide (GaSb), aluminum antimonide (AlSb), and related alloys. These lasers are similar to quantum cascade lasers (QCLs) in several ways. Like QCLs, ICLs employ the concept of bandstructure engineering to achieve an optimized laser design and reuse injected electrons to emit multiple photons. However, in ICLs, photons are generated with interband transitions, rather than the intersubband transitions used in QCLs. Consequently, the rate at which the carriers injected into the upper laser subband thermally relax to the lower subband is determined by interband Auger, radiative, and Shockley-Read carrier recombination. These processes typically occur on a much slower time scale than the longitudinal optical phonon interactions that mediates the intersubband relaxation of injected electrons in mid-IR QCLs. The use of interband transitions allows laser action in ICLs to be achieved at lower electrical input powers than is possible with QCLs.

In light-emitting diode physics, the recombination of electrons and electron holes in a semiconductor produce light, a process called "electroluminescence". The wavelength of the light produced depends on the energy band gap of the semiconductors used. Since these materials have a high index of refraction, design features of the devices such as special optical coatings and die shape are required to efficiently emit light. An LED is a long-lived light source, but certain mechanisms can cause slow loss of efficiency of the device or sudden failure. The wavelength of the light emitted is a function of the band gap of the semiconductor material used; materials such as gallium arsenide, and others, with various trace doping elements, are used to produce different colors of light. Another type of LED uses a quantum dot which can have its properties and wavelength adjusted by its size. Light-emitting diodes are widely used in indicator and display functions, and white LEDs are displacing other technologies for general illumination purposes.

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Further reading