A team led by a professor at the University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering has made a discovery in semiconductor nanowire laser technology that could potentially do everything from kill viruses to increase storage capacity of DVDs.
Jianlin Liu, a professor of electrical engineering, and his colleagues have made a breakthrough in zinc oxide nanowire waveguide lasers, which can offer smaller sizes, lower costs, higher powers and shorter wavelengths.
Until now, zinc oxide nanowires couldn’t be used in real world light emission applications because of the lack of p-type, or positive type, material needed by all semiconductors. Liu solved that problem by doping the zinc oxide nanowires with antimony, a metalloid element, to create the p-type material.
The p-type zinc oxide nanowires were connected with n-type, or negative type, zinc oxide material to form a device called p-n junction diode. Powered by a battery, highly directional laser light emits only from the ends of the nanowires.
For information storage, the zinc oxide nanowire lasers could be used to read and process much denser data on storage media such as DVDs because the ultraviolet has shorter wavelength than other lights, such as red. For example, a DVD that would store two hours of music could store four or six hours using the new type of laser.
For biology and medical therapeutics, the ultra-small laser light beam from a nanowire laser can penetrate a living cell, or excite or change its function from a bad cell to a good cell. The light could also be used to purify drinking water.
For photonics, the ultraviolet light could provide superfast data processing and transmission. Reliable small ultraviolet semiconductor diode lasers may help develop ultraviolet wireless communication technology, which is potentially better than state-of-the-art infrared communication technologies used in various electronic information systems.
While Liu and the students in his laboratory have demonstrated the p-type doping of zinc oxide and electrically powered nanowire waveguide lasing in the ultraviolet range, he said more work still needs to be done with the stability and reliability of the p-type material.
Ultraviolet semiconductor lasers are widely used for applications in photonics, information storage, biology and medical therapeutics. Although the performance of gallium nitride ultraviolet lasers has improved significantly over the past decade, demand for lower costs, higher powers and shorter wavelengths has motivated interest in zinc oxide (ZnO), which has a wide direct bandgap and a large exciton binding energy. ZnO-based random lasing has been demonstrated with both optical and electrical pumping but random lasers suffer from reduced output powers, unstable emission spectra and beam divergence. Here, we demonstrate electrically pumped Fabry–Perot type waveguide lasing from laser diodes that consist of Sb-doped p-type ZnO nanowires and n-type ZnO thin films. The diodes exhibit highly stable lasing at room temperature, and can be modelled with finite-difference time-domain methods
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